What you should know if you are bitten by a dog in New Jersey

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), nearly five million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. every year, many of them children bitten by pets. Dog bites can cause severe puncture wounds and lacerations, and even serious tissue and nerve damage if the bite is deep enough, and transmit diseases including rabies.

In most personal injury cases, the onus is on the person who brings the lawsuit to prove that the defendant’s negligent acts caused them measurable harm. Dog bite cases are among the few exceptions. Dog owners in New Jersey are subject to strict liability for bite injuries caused by their dogs, which means that the bite victim doesn’t have to prove the owner neglected to use reasonable care to successfully sue for damages in most instances.

New Jersey Statutes section 4:19-16 imposes automatic liability on the dog’s owner 1) when the person bitten is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, 2) regardless of any prior aggression by the dog or its owner’s knowledge of it. The owner is liable even if he or she took reasonable steps to leash or restrain the dog and even if it has never bitten or hurt anyone before.

Dog owners are strictly liable for bite injuries to persons legally present on their property, as long as the person wasn’t trespassing or committing another crime. This includes guests, mail carriers, delivery people, tenants and their guests, utility meter readers, law enforcement and others.

Which dog breeds bite most, and why?

According to AAHA, the dog breeds most associated with bite injuries are pit bulls, mixed breeds, German shepherds, and Rottweilers. Among the breeds considered to have the lowest bite risk are dalmations, Pekingese, Great Danes, and pointers. However, any breed can bite under the right circumstances. Dogs bite when they’re afraid, when unsuspecting children are playing rough with them or pulling their tail, out of territoriality (protecting their master), and even when being playful. Any dog belonging to another person should be approached carefully, and children should be taught safe ways of interacting with them.

New Jersey requires dog owners to use reasonable care restraining their dogs based on the dog’s history. If a dog bites or makes an unprovoked attack on a person or pet, there is a civil procedure whereby at a law enforcement officer’s discretion, the dog may be impounded and possibly designated a “potentially dangerous dog” after a hearing. If the dog is so designated, its owner must take several steps in order to keep the dog:

  1. Purchase a special license
  2. Use proper measures to restrain and enclose the dog, such as a muzzle
  3. Post signs on their property warning a dangerous dog is present

Failure to take these actions could subject the canine’s owner to fines of up to $1,000 per day.

What kind of compensation can I get for a dog bite injury?

If you are bitten by a dog in New Jersey and suffer injuries, you could be compensated for your medical bills, lost time from work, and even intangible damages such as pain and suffering, disfigurement and emotional distress. In addition to physical scars, many people attacked by dogs suffer lingering psychological trauma including PTSD and subsequent fear of dogs.

All you need to prove under the strict liability doctrine is that the defendant, or person you are suing, was the legal owner of the dog that bit you. It is important to get photos of your bite wound as well as collect all medical records and bills associated with your injury. If the dog owner owns a home, often their homeowner’s insurance policy will cover the liability.

Contact a Bergen County dog bite lawyer

Aretsky Law Group P.C. represents New Jersey dog bite victims as part of its personal injury practice. Call us today for a free consultation.


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