Is a Dog’s Owner Always Responsible for a Dog Bite in New Jersey?
A dog bite incident is every responsible dog owner’s worst nightmare and a common phobia for non-dog owners as well. While states vary in how they address dog bite laws, New Jersey’s dog bite laws are extremely strict when it comes to the liability of dog ownership. When a dog attacks a human in New Jersey, the owner is considered liable, provided that the victim was in a private place or lawfully in a public place at the time the dog bite took place. If you are considering filing a lawsuit against a dog’s owner for injuries caused by their dog, it is important to understand the nuances of liability in NJ dog bite cases and whether the owner may have a reasonable defense against your claim. To speak with an experienced dog bite lawyer about your specific dog bite case and potential for recovering compensation, contact us now at (732) 303-7857.
Legal Responsibility of Dog Ownership in NJ
Under the law applicable to dog bites in New Jersey, Title 4 Section 19, a dog’s owner is liable for the results of a dog bite if that bite occurs in a public place or when the victim was lawfully on private property. This is a strict liability law. Essentially, it means that the owner is liable whether the bite was the dog’s first incident or fifth, and whether the dog was previously docile or just naturally aggressive. In New Jersey, the dog’s owner is responsible for medical bills, time lost from work while the victim underwent treatment, and other civil liabilities if their dog bites someone.
Are there Defenses for Dog Owners being Sued in NJ?
There are a few defenses that dog owners can use when facing a dog bite claim. However, these defense options rarely apply given the strong wording of the strict liability dog bite statute. First, a dog’s owner may be able to argue that the victim subjected themselves unreasonably and voluntarily to a known risk by teasing, hitting, or otherwise provoking the dog that bit them. This argument is an appeal to New Jersey’s comparative negligence rules, which state that if a person is partially responsible for their own injury, the damages they can recover should be reduced in proportion to the amount they were at fault. For example, if the dog bite victim were 90% responsible for the bite by repeatedly pulling the dog’s tail, kicking or hitting the dog, the dog’s owner might attempt to argue that the plaintiff incited the attack by provoking an otherwise docile animal. This would arguably reduce the dog owner’s responsibility for the incident.
If a dog bites a professional groomer, veterinary technician, or other professional paid to handle animals, the dog’s owner may be able to argue that those individuals “assumed the risk” of being bitten in exchange for payment. This defense is something of a long-shot and it does not generally apply to part-time house sitters or babysitters who may have been paid to watch the dog.
The only real, statutory defense to New Jersey’s strict liability dog bite statute is the trespassing defense. The statute states that a dog owner is liable for a bite that occurs while the victim is on public property or lawfully on private property. If the dog’s owner can prove that the alleged victim was trespassing on private property at the time of the animal attack, this may be an effective way to avoid owner liability. Notably, this does not apply to individuals who are performing officials duties while on the property, such as mail carriers, delivery company employees, or utility service providers.