Dogs may be “man’s best friend,” but many people are justifiably cautions around dogs they don’t know. Even well-treated dogs are often fiercely loyal and protective toward the people they consider part of their “pack,” and may respond with aggression to strangers. In the unfortunate cases when a dog has been poorly trained or mistreated, aggressive responses in dogs are often motivated by fear – either that they will be hurt or that their food will be taken away. Sometimes, changes to a dog’s environment will cause the animal to become anxious or over-stimulated, causing it to snap in reaction. Whatever the cause, dog bites and attacks can cause severe injuries and serious psychological trauma in victims. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a dog bite incident, it’s vital to understand the laws governing when a pet owner is liable for damages resulting from their dog’s actions.
Descended as they are from wolves, dogs can cause frightening amounts of damage to a victim during an attack. Many people associate larger breeds often employed as guard dogs with bite attacks: Dobermans, Rottweilers, German shepherds, pit bulls. It’s true that these animals can severely injure a person. I recently settled a dog-bite case for my client for $1,050,000 after my client was severely attacked by a dog and lost the use of her right arm from the vicious Rottweiler.
However, it’s important to remember that large dogs aren’t the only kind that can inflict serious wounds: many people underestimate the ability of small dogs to hurt a person, which can cause their owners to neglect proper training and discipline of their pets. All dog owners should be aware that training is not optional and isn’t just about doing “tricks” – it’s about being able to control a dog’s behavior in stressful or dangerous situations.
New Jersey’s dog bite legislation recognizes the ultimate responsibility that the dog’s owner bears in managing and anticipating their pet’s behavior. Many states require that a victim prove that the dog’s owner had some prior indication or reason to believe their dog was prone to vicious behavior or was otherwise likely to bite, before the owner can be held liable for injuries caused by the dog. The state of New Jersey uses a different standard, one that is aimed at the compensation of the innocent victim of a dog bite. The statute governing dog bites in New Jersey is a “strict liability” law, meaning that a dog’s owner will be held liable for bite injuries his dog inflicts even if he had no prior reason to believe the dog would bite, and even if he made reasonable efforts to restrain the dog, or attempted to warn or protect potential victims from his dog.
The only points of fact that a dog bite victim must prove in order for the dog’s owner to be held liable are that (a) the dog bit them, resulting in an injury that caused the damages they are seeking compensation for, and (b) that the victim was in a place they were permitted to be when the attack took place. This means that they were either in a public place or they were on private property lawfully. If the property belongs to someone else, the victim must either have been invited or be carrying out official duties. For instance, mail carriers routinely come onto private property to carry out postal delivery duties without obtaining explicit permission from property owners; their job gives them that authorization. However, a private individual trespassing on another person’s property has no such protection or authorization. If a trespasser is bitten by the property owner’s dog, the property owner might not be liable for any resulting injuries suffered by the trespasser.
New Jersey’s case law does not allow recovery of compensation by a person who abuses or harasses a dog. If the dog bites such a person, no recovery is possible.
It’s important for victims pursing a liability claim against a dog owner to remember that the strict liability standard applies only to bite attacks. If a dog injures you in any other way – by jumping up and knocking you down, or scratching you, or tripping you – this strict standard of liability does not apply. You may still pursue a negligence claim against the owner, and such claims are sometimes based on the violation of leash laws or negligent failure to control a dog, but the normal defenses in a negligence case are available to the defendant in such a case.
Contact MyNJInjuryLawyer Howard P. Lesnik
If you or a loved one suffered a dog bite injury in NJ, you should contact an attorney familiar with handling these claims. An experienced NJ Injury Lawyer will know how to obtain medical records, videos, photographs, experts, locate witnesses and contact the insurance company so you can make a claim for your injuries.
My NJ Injury Lawyer Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. offers complimentary strategy sessions to address any issue or questions you may have for your injury claim in NJ.
Please contact NJ Injury Lawyer Howard Lesnik, Esq., immediately if you were involved in a dog bite or dog attack. I personally handle NJ personal injury cases on a regular basis. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session. Call me direct and I will answer 5 questions that you have about your potential claim.