By: Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq.
Pursuant to statute, New Jersey law imposes strict liability upon the owner of a dog whose dog bites another person. Contrary to the common-law requirements wherein the dog’s vicious propensities were analyzed, strict liability applies regardless of whether the owner knows of the dog’s vicious propensities.
In order to recover for injuries from a dog bite, the injured party must prove that the Defendant is the owner of the dog, that the dog bit the injured party, and that the bite occurred while the injured party was in a public place or lawfully upon private property, including the property of the dog owner. As to the proof required to demonstrate that the dog bit the victim, case law does not require that the skin be punctured to conclude that a dog bite occurred – bruising, swelling, or similar marks may be sufficient to prove that the bite occurred.
In regards to ownership of the dog, although the statute places strict liability on the “owner” of the dog, the identity of the proper Defendant(s) may not always be clear. Case law extends liability for dog bites to other individuals; for example, when multiple parties consider the dog to be theirs, share in the burdens and benefits of dog ownership, and hold themselves out to the world to be the owners of the dog, they may each be liable for the injuries. In addition, where a dog is harbored on rented property, the landlord may be responsible for the dog’s bite.
With respect to the requirement that the victim be either in a public place or “lawfully” upon the property, a person is lawfully upon the private property of another when he or she is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by law or postal regulation, or when he or she is on such property by invitation – express or implied – of the owner. Accordingly, invitees and licensees may recover for injuries sustained by a dog bite, but a trespasser to the property ordinarily may not.
Although the dog owner faces strict liability, the defense of “contributory negligence” may be raised if the victim of the dog bite contributed to the bite through his or her own negligence – for example, if the victim engaged in deliberate action to provoke the dog, or if the victim approached the dog despite knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity, the Defendant may limit his or her exposure. Furthermore, when a dog is delivered to the care of an independent contractor, the contractor may be deemed to have “assumed the risk” and, therefore, an exception to liability may exist.
It is worth noting that New Jersey has a Statute of Limitations that prevents the filing of a personal injury complaint or claim petition for workers’ compensation benefits after two (2) years from the date of the accident in most instances. Furthermore, if you wish to pursue a claim against a public entity or governmental agency, or any employee of a public entity, you must give timely notice of the intent to file a claim, which is ordinarily within ninety (90) days from the date you knew or should have known of the cause of action. Failure to bring a claim within an applicable time period may cause any claim you may have had to be barred forever. Therefore, if you have been injured and wish to seek compensation, it is imperative that you do so immediately upon sustaining injury.
If you have been injured or have any questions in regards to personal injury law, you may wish to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. This article is for information purposes only, and is neither legal advice nor the creation of an attorney client relationship.
Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq. / Timothy J. Little, P.C. – 2016 – All Rights Reserved
Timothy J. Little, P.C. is a full-service law firm with offices in Woodbridge and Chesterfield, New Jersey. The attorneys at Timothy J. Little, P.C. represent individuals, families and businesses throughout New Jersey including Middlesex County (Old Bridge, Woodbridge, Sayreville, East Brunswick, Spotswood, Perth Amboy, Dunellen, Colonia, Sewaren, Iselin, Avenel, Fords, Keasbey, Menlo Park, Port Reading, South Amboy, Monroe, Edison, Carteret, Cranbury, Helmetta, South River, Milltown, Highland Park, Jamesburg, Laurence Harbor), Monmouth County (Hazlet, Aberdeen, Matawan, Keyport, Cliffwood Beach, Middletown, Freehold), Union County, Ocean County, Somerset County, and Burlington County.