New Jersey has enacted a specific dog bite statute that covers most, but not all, dog bite scenarios. If the facts of the case do not fall under the dog bite statute, the victim can try to establish liability under common law negligence principles. Either way, a prevailing victim is entitled to full compensatory damages, including an amount for pain and suffering.
Under the New Jersey dog bite statute, a dog owner can be held liable for a dog bite no matter how careful he was to prevent the dog from hurting anyone, and regardless of the dog’s history of aggressive behavior (or lack thereof). All the dog bite victim has to show is that:
- The defendant was responsible for the dog (he was the “owner”)
- The defendant’s dog bit the victim
- The victim’s claimed damages resulted from the dog bite.
Who is an “Owner”?
New Jersey court cases have significantly broadened the meaning of the word “owner” under the New Jersey dog bite statute. An “owner” can be the legal owner, a dog sitter, a shopkeeper whose only contact with the dog was to allow it to enter his shop, or even the roommate of a dog owner if he reasonably appeared to be the owner from the victim’s point of view. A landlord can be even held liable for the actions of the building superintendent’s dog. If the owner is a minor, ownership will typically be attributed to a parent or guardian.
Two fact scenarios commonly fall outside the scope of the New Jersey dog bite statute: (i) when the injury inflicted by the dog did not result from a bite and (ii) when the victim was trespassing at the time of the bite. In both cases, the victim will probably have to proceed on common law personal injury principles, which means he will have to prove that the “owner” was negligent (careless) in order to win the case.
Non-bite injuries: The New Jersey dog bite statute covers only bites. The victim will have to establish negligence in the case of a non-bite injury such as scratches, knockdowns, or traffic accidents caused by dog misbehavior.
Trespassers: Even a trespasser can hold a dog owner liable if the dog is known by the owner to be vicious (based on the dog’s past history), unless the victim was on the property for the purpose of committing a crime. A trespasser on property other than the dog owner’s property can also pursue negligence liability as long as he had no criminal intent.
Under New Jersey’s comparative fault system, when two or more parties share the blame for a dog injury, the victim can recover damages only if he is no more than 50 percent at fault for the injury. Even if he does recover damages, however, he can only recover the percentage of his damages that is attributable to the fault of the defendant. If, for example, a court rules that a dog bite was 25 percent the fault of the victim (due to provocation, for example) and 75 percent the fault of the defendant, then the victim can only recover 75 percent of his damages.
The New Jersey Statute of Limitations
In New Jersey, you have two years from the date of the bite to file a lawsuit. If you file your complaint even one day late, the judge will throw your case out of court for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
If you or a loved one have been hurt, talk to a New Jersey dog bite lawyer.