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Court Determines Liability of Pet Store Owner in Dog Bite Case

A mother took her two children to a pet store so that they can buy pet supplies on January 23, 2006. At that same time, a retired gentleman was also shopping at the same pet store. He had with him his 9 month old Rottweiler puppy. He adopted the puppy from an animal shelter just ten days before the incident.

A New York Injury Lawyer said the retire gentleman had adopted a similar Rottweiler puppy years before from the same animal shelter and he had no problems with that adopted dog. This new dog exhibited a great disposition and the retired gentleman was training with the puppy.

After coming from the animal shelter, the puppy had contact with children. She had visited the pet store before the incident and the Rottweiler puppy had not exhibited any aggressiveness of territorial barking.

On that day at the pet store, the mother of the two children asked the retired gentleman if her daughters can pet his puppy. The puppy was then on a leash. The retired gentleman agreed. While the retired gentleman and the mother chatted, her children patted the dog. Suddenly the Rottweiler lunged and bit her daughter in the mouth causing her injury.

The mother sued the pet store owner and the owner of the Rottweiler for the dog bite injury. She sued them under the common law negligence. She alleged that the Rottweiler puppy was a dangerous dog and had a propensity for viciousness which the retired gentleman should have known.

The pet owner and the retired gentleman both filed motion for summary judgment asking for the dismissal of the case against them. The court found that the plaintiff mother failed to raise a material issue of fact and dismissed the complaint.

The mother appealed the dismissal. A Westchester County Personal Injury Lawyer said the questions she raised is whether or not there exists material issues of fact that need to be tried or whether or not the pet store owner and the retired gentleman had a right to a judgment of dismissal.

The Court held that the dismissal was valid.

The Court held that the common law negligence cannot be used to sue the pet owner. The only way to sue a pet owner is to prove that the owner knew that his dog had vicious propensities and did not take necessary steps to prevent the dog from biting another person.

Here, there is no evidence that the retired gentleman knew that his puppy had vicious propensities. The puppy had exhibited a good disposition. The puppy was not being trained to be a guard dog. The puppy was on a leash. A Suffolk County Personal Injury Lawyer said the puppy had previously been around other children and had not bitten any of them.

As for the pet store owner, there is a duty for a store owner to make sure that his customers are reasonably safe and to protect his customers from exposure to harm. The pet store owner was in control of the store. The store had an animal-friendly policy. The only material issue of fact here that has to be determined is whether the pet store owner could foresee the danger that opening his store to animals might expose his customers to the risk of getting bitten by a dog.

But the Court ruled that the animal-friendly policy of the store is an industry-wide standard designed for the benefit of the customers. The pet store has a rule that in order for pets to be allowed into its store, the pets have to be leashed or contained in pet carriers. The Court noted that there are 800 branches of the same pet store nationwide and 80 million transactions were recorded in the year before this incident. Only 5 dog bites have been reported to the management at any of the stores. When this information is laid next to the national average of dog bites which is 4.7 million dog bites to the public at large, then the dog bites that occur in the pet store is minimal.

The Court ruled that the pet store owner is entitled to a dismissal of the complaint against him as well. The Court ruled that there is nothing inherently dangerous to the practice of having an animal-friendly pet store that would expose the pet store and its owners to liability for the dog bite sustained by one of its customers.

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