New Jersey Dog Bite Law And Animal Attack Cases
D ogs bite or attack people about 4.7 million times per year, accounting for nearly 900,000 instances where people seek some kind of medical attention. Nearly half of those bitten or attacked are children under the age of 10.
Although there are other animal attacks such as from birds, snakes and others, the vast majority are from dogs. These attacks can cause scarring or disfigurement as well as other serious medical conditions including:
- Nerve damage
- Broken limbs
- Facial injuries
- Emotional damage
New Jersey has strict laws regarding dog and animal attacks and the responsibility of animal owners. A pet or animal owner has an obligation to restrain a dog, update their vaccinations and to have a dog registered or licensed. If a particular animal is of a violent breed, it must be trained.
Strict Liability for Dog or Animal Attacks
no “one free bite” allowed
Most US states, including New Jersey, impose strict liability on a dog owner whose pet bites or attacks someone, regardless if the dog had bitten someone in the past or if the owner knew of the animal’s viciousness. In other words, there is no “one free bite” allowed.
The only requirements for an injured victim of a dog or animal attack to show liability on the dog owner’s part are to prove the following:
- The defendant owned the dog
- The dog bit the victim or plaintiff
- The plaintiff was on public property or lawfully on private property
Once these elements are established, the plaintiff need not introduce any further evidence of liability.
A landlord may also be subject to liability under premises liability principles. A building owner that allows dogs or other animals has an obligation to warn other tenants and those invited onto the property that a dangerous dog or animal is present, and to make the premises safe for building managers or security guards hired by the landlord.
Exceptions to the Strict Liability Law
If the plaintiff or victim was trespassing, the dog owner may not be responsible for any damages incurred by the victim but only if the trespasser had criminal intent. In cases where someone inadvertently wandered onto private property without permission, the dog owner remains liable.
An exception is where the victim may have contributed to the incident by deliberately inciting the animal or who had prior knowledge that the dog or animal was vicious. If a jury determines the victim’s fault was more than the fault of the owner, the victim does not recover any compensation. For example, if the plaintiff’s fault was 25% and the defendant’s was 75%, the plaintiff’s damages are decreased by 25%. No plaintiff may be more than 50% at fault.
Should there be more than one defendant, any one of them is no longer subject to joint and several liability for paying all the damages and then seeking indemnification from the other defendant for his or her degree of fault. Although liable defendants in New Jersey may have to pay 100% of any economic damages, they may only pay their percentage of fault for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. This situation may occur where a dog walker employed by the owner causes a dog to attack or bite someone.
Children and Parents
Children are especially susceptible to dog bites since they may not appreciate the danger of approaching an unknown animal or wandering onto private property. If the child is under 7 years of age, the law generally excuses any provocative behavior by the child.
Parents can be held responsible for any negligent behavior by not properly supervising a young child that is bitten, though the negligent conduct in this regard would generally have to be extreme. A parent who turns his or her back on the child for a minute or two before the child is bitten would probably not be held legally liable. If the parent encouraged the child to tease or provoke the dog, the parent would likely be held responsible.
Other Theories of Liability
You can prove negligence by the owner in cases where the owner knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensities. A person who is bitten by such an animal can show that the owner was negligent if the plaintiff proves that the animal had a dangerous trait; the owner knew or should have known of the animal’s propensity; and the injury suffered was from the attack.
Dog bite and animal attack cases require the knowledge, experienced personal injury attorneys and the resources of a law firm that has successfully handled such cases. To speak to an experienced dog bite lawyer and animal attack lawyer Contact Us now for a free and confidential consultation and case evaluation.