While dogs are usually friendly animals, some still attack humans or other animals. Unfortunately, these attacks often lead to serious injuries or even death depending on the circumstances. The goal of NJ dog bite laws is to help victims pursue compensation for their injuries if bitten.
At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we assist victims in holding the owner of the dog accountable. Here are a few things you need to know about NJ dog bite law and how the state handles attacks.
The New Jersey Dog Bite Statute
Under NJSA § 4:19-16 (NJ Legislative Statutes), dog owners have strict liability for their dog’s actions. This means that anyone bitten by the dog, as long as they didn’t provoke it or trespass on private property, may file a lawsuit against the owner. Even if the dog has no previous history of aggressive behavior, the owner may have to pay damages for any of the victim’s injuries. This sometimes includes injuries they sustain trying to get away from the dog after being bit.
What Happens If a Dog Bites You?
When a dog bite occurs, the state sends an animal control officer to investigate the claim. During this investigation, they verify the dog’s vaccinations and determine if there is a previous history of biting. In most cases, the animal control officer does not take the dog away from the owner. Instead, they may require them to have warning signs, keep the dog locked in an enclosure, or place a muzzle on it. In very rare cases, animal control may take the dog if the owner doesn’t meet these precautions or they fail to implement the requirements.
Will the Dog Be Put Down?
Animal control won’t euthanize a dog in most cases. However, there are a few rare instances where they may euthanize the dog. For example, if the dog seriously injures someone unprovoked or if it’s used in dogfighting, the court may have the dog euthanized. Typically, this happens only if the owner doesn’t follow the above precautions or if another attack happens after declaring the dog dangerous.
Damages Available Under NJ Dog Bite Law
Like other personal injury cases, NJ dog bite law allows victims to seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Each of these damage types covers a wide range of losses, both actual and intangible.
Economic damages refer to the tangible losses incurred by the victim as a result of their injuries. This includes any actual costs associated with the injuries, such as medical bills, lost wages, physical therapy, future medical costs, and more. If your injury resulted in permanent disability, economic damages also cover accessibility conversions and at-home care.
In contrast, non-economic damages are the intangible perceived losses of a victim. When you receive a serious injury, there are certain aspects of your life that may change due to physical limitations. For example, if a victim has to have their leg amputated, they may not be able to enjoy many of their previous physical activities or pastimes. Non-economic damages cover these kinds of losses, as well as pain and suffering, emotional anguish, loss of companionship, and disfigurement.
The Importance of Negligence in NJ Dog Bite Law
There are many instances in which a dog injures someone without biting them. If someone gets knocked off their bike by a dog, New Jersey’s strict liability statute may not apply. For cases like these, it’s still possible to seek compensation if you can show that the owner’s negligence resulted in injuries.
For a negligence claim, the court requires proof that:
- The owner had a duty of care to reasonably control the dog,
- The owner breached that duty of care,
- The owner’s lack of care resulted in injuries, and
- The victim sustained damages.
This is an important part of a dog bite claim because reasonable measures to control the dog depend on the situation. For example, if the dog has no history of chasing or biting, a leash may count as reasonable. However, if the dog has a history of attacking strangers, a leash may not be enough to control the dog.
Common Defenses for a Dog Bite in NJ
In New Jersey, there are a couple of ways dog owners may try to defend against a lawsuit. One common defense often used in a NJ dog bite lawsuit is that the victim was trespassing. Under New Jersey’s strict liability statute for dog bites, an owner isn’t liable if their dog bites someone trespassing on their property. To fight this defense, the victim must show that they were either invited onto the property or carrying out a legal duty.
A second common defense used by dog owners is comparative negligence. In many cases, the owner claims that the victim shares some responsibility for their injuries. For example, if the victim provoked or teased the dog, the court may consider them partially at fault for the attack. However, under NJSA § 2A:15-5.1 (NJ Legislative Statutes), a victim may pursue compensation for their injuries as long as their share of fault is 50% or less. The court then reduces the total damages by that percentage of fault.
It’s important to note that you may still have a case even if the attack doesn’t fall under New Jersey’s strict liability standards. For example, if a child gets attacked by a loose dog when playing along the edge of the owner’s front lawn, the owner may still be held liable. While the child wasn’t invited or performing a legal duty, the owner negligently let their dog roam unrestrained around the property. This is just one example of bringing a claim under general negligence rather than strict liability.
Have More Questions About Dog Bite Law in NJ? Call Us Today
Being bitten by a dog is a terrifying experience, especially if it’s unprovoked. At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our NJ dog bite attorneys advocate for victims of these attacks. We know that the pain and trauma of a bite may be lifelong, so we fight for the compensation you need to recover. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our experienced attorneys.