On February 28, 2020, the life of Rahway, NJ resident Jane Martin was forever changed when she was attacked by her neighbor’s dog. King, a large rottweiler, escaped his owner’s yard when part of the fence separating the two properties collapsed, and attacked Martin, who was on her front porch. The dog bit and held her arm, dragging her down the steps and across her driveway toward the neighbor’s home, until a passerby intervened and forced the dog to release Martin by striking it with a stick.
Unfortunately, in those few terrifying moments, Martin suffered extensive injuries that resulted in the permanent loss of the use of her right hand – despite the eleven surgeries needed to save the injured limb and months of physical therapy. Martin, now 72, has had to re-learn how to write, use a fork, and perform other basic tasks with her left hand. When medical help first arrived on the scene, Martin had no right radial pulse, and the damage inflicted on the arteries, veins, and tendons of her hand and lower arm was too extensive for doctors to restore mobility or anything but minimal sensation to the limb. What little sensation remains in her damaged arm has resulted in Martin developing chronic pain in the limb, the treatment of which required a spinal cord stimulator surgically implanted into her back.
Howard P. Lesnik, Jane Martin’s personal injury attorney notes, “New Jersey, like many US states, has a ‘strict liability’ statute (N.J.S.A. 4:19-16).” This statute holds the dog’s owner liable for any injury damages that result when their dog bites a person, provided that the victim was either on public property, or was legally on private property (in other words, not trespassing) when the bite incident occurred. There is no requirement that the dog’s owner have prior knowledge that their dog exhibited any vicious behavior or tendency to bite. As Martin was bitten when the dog entered Martin’s own property, the strict liability standard clearly applied.
Dogs of any breed have the potential to be vicious and to harm humans, which is why part of responsible dog ownership involves properly training and socializing the dog and controlling its movements when needed. Of course, certain breeds possess sufficient size and strength to inflict considerably more damage than others, and additional precautions are necessary for these dogs. In this case, the rottweiler King’s owner, Germaine Henderson, had taken the precaution of erecting a fence on his property line – which is why Greatescapes Contractors, the company that installed the fence, and its principal, Anthony Pardo, were also named in the lawsuit.
Previously the vinyl fence had been built three feet inside the property line, on Henderson’s side. Greatescapes was contracted to move the fence directly onto the property line, but it turned out that the job was poorly done. Most of the fence posts were not plumb and leaned to the west. Scuff marks on the fence’s top rail indicated that the posts wobbled excessively in windy weather. Overall, the fence was improperly rebuilt, resulting in a dangerous nuisance condition under normal use. As a result, Greatescapes was found negligent in its duties and bore some liability for the injury damages Jane Martin suffered as a result of her neighbor relying on that fence to constrain his dog’s movement.
It was because of this effort to identify all the parties who bore liability for Jane Martin’s injuries that she was able to receive the appropriate compensation necessary to pay for her extensive medical costs and adapt to the permanent disability she suffered. Her neighbor’s homeowner insurance policy capped out at $300,000, which Martin received in December of 2020. However, in a settlement reached with Greatescapes and Pardo on June 7 of this year, they agreed to pay an additional $750,000, bringing the full value of Martin’s settlement to $1.025 million, of which she received the balance on June 20th.
“It these cases, I am always happy when I can reach a settlement that is fair for my client, Mr. Lesnik remarks. “Ms. Martin’s injuries were significant, and she continues to suffer and deal with them every day. It is rewarding when I can hold the responsible companies and parties responsible for their negligence that caused such a severe physical and emotional trauma to my client,” he concludes.