Dog bites cause serious and permanent injuries in New Jersey every year. In the United States, approximately 800,000 individuals receive medical attention annually for dog bite injuries. In many cases, dogs with no known history of viciousness can attack people without warning. In other circumstances, the owner may have known the dog has a proclivity to violence. In either case, if you were injured by someone else's dog, you may be entitled to compensation.
Dog Bite Injuries: an Overview
Dog bite injuries range from being mild like scratches to severe and life-threatening. The most common injuries include:
- Puncture wounds
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Head injuries
- Neck injuries
- Face injuries
- Nerve damage
Dog bite injuries can be especially dangerous to children because they are more easily overpowered by a dog. The risks to children are specific to injuries to the face, head, and neck because of their shorter stature and proximity to a dog's face. Children also face a much higher risk of injury than adults due to their lack of experience and knowledge about interacting with a potentially dangerous dog.
Owner Liability for Dog Bites in New Jersey
In New Jersey, dog owners are held strictly liable for bite injuries. This means that an injured party who files a lawsuit does not need to prove that the owner was negligent in order to recover damages. It does not matter whether the owner knew the dog was dangerous or not. This differs from other states following the “one bite” rule where owners may present a defense based on the fact that the owner was not aware of the risk of danger posed to others because the dog had no vicious tendencies. Strict liability applies to dog bites that occur on both public and private property.
Strict liability only applies to bite injuries and not other types of injuries caused by dogs. For example, if a dog scratches a person while jumping on them or knocks a person down, strict liability does not apply. Plaintiffs may still file a lawsuit alleging that an owner was negligent in circumstances where the owner failed to use reasonable care to control the dog and prevent the injury. If a dog bit the plaintiff, the defendant may be held strictly liable for all types of injuries caused by the animal including from scratches that occurred during the attack.
In cases where you are trying to prove negligence, a dog's history may become relevant. In negligence cases, you must demonstrate that an owner knew or should have known that a dog has the capacity to cause an injury and because of that knowledge, the defendant failed to act with reasonable care to prevent a dog bite. For example, imagine an owner who knew that his dog has a history of running outside and chasing after cyclists. This evidence can be introduced to demonstrate the failure to exercise reasonable care because he did not control the animal despite knowledge of the dog's tendencies to chase cyclists.
Landlord Liability for Dog Bites in New Jersey
In some cases, a landlord may be held liable for a dog bite injury if the landlord allows a tenant to keep a vicious dog or another dangerous animal on the property. Landlords and building owners may also be liable if they request a repairman or other worker to enter the property with knowledge of the existence of the vicious animal without warning the worker of its presence.
Defenses to New Jersey Dog Bite Cases
There are three primary situations where a dog owner may avoid full or partial liability: (1) trespassing; (2) provocation; and (3) knowledge that the dog has a tendency to be dangerous.
Dog owners may be able to avoid liability if it can be proven that the injured person was trespassing on private property. Individuals such as mail carriers and utility company repairmen and anyone who has been given permission by a property owner may be lawfully present on private property.
In cases where the plaintiff provoked the animal to attack, the defendant may be able to argue that the plaintiff was partially at fault and that the defendant should not be held fully liable for any injuries.
Knowledge of the Dog's Dangerous Proclivity
A defendant may also be able to argue that the plaintiff was negligent and assumed some of the risk of the attack if he or she knew that the dog had vicious tendencies and approached the dog despite this knowledge.
Filing a Dog Bite Injury Claim
To begin a dog bite lawsuit, the injured party must file a complaint and have the complaint served on any parties responsible for the injuries along with a summons. The statute of limitations for filing a dog bite injury claim is two years in New Jersey. If the person injured was a child, the child's parents or legal guardians may file a claim on the child's behalf. The plaintiff has the burden of proving the facts of the case.
Plaintiffs must prove damages related to their injuries for both economic or actual losses and non-economic damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. In cases that involve facial scarring or other permanent damages, the plaintiff may request compensation for future losses. Economic losses may be introduced into evidence in the form of medical bills, proof of lost wages and proof of any other costs related to the accident such as property damage.
Other Types of New Jersey Animal Attack Claims
Individuals who have been injured by other types of domestic animals may be able to file a lawsuit pursuant to New Jersey's negligence laws. Strict liability does not apply in cases where the injuries were caused by most other types of pets. This means that in cases involving common household animals, like cats, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care to prevent the injury and failed to do so.
There is an exception in cases of exotic animals. An owner who keeps an exotic pet may be held strictly liable because keeping an exotic pet, like a tiger or a hyena, can be considered an inherently dangerous activity. Even if the animal has no known history of attacking a person, owners of exotic pets may be held strictly liable for injuries caused by their animals.
Bergen County, New Jersey Dog Bite Injury Attorneys
If you or someone you love suffered injuries from a dog attack, a New Jersey attorney may be able to help you file a claim for damages. To schedule a consultation to discuss your case, contact Najib, Kim & Feliz, attorneys at law online or call us at (201) 585-2250.