Holding New Jersey dog owners responsible for their dogs’ actions

Dog bites can have devastating consequences, especially for small defenseless children. Some bites cause lacerations so severe that stitches, or even plastic surgery, are needed to treat the victim. Those who suffer dog bites in New Jersey need to be aware of their rights if they are ever victimized by a dangerous dog.

New Jersey Dog Bite Law

Under New Jersey law, dog owners are strictly liable for any injuries caused by bites inflicted by their dogs. It doesn’t matter if the dog is from a docile breed or the dog has never shown any violent tendencies, the owner will be held responsible. Specifically, the New Jersey dog bite statute states:

The owner of any dog which shall bite a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.

Consequently, those bitten by a dog must prove three elements in order to hold the dog owner liable, which include:

  • The defendant must be the actual owner of the dog
  • The dog must have bitten the injured party
  • The bite must occur while the victim is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner

Notably, New Jersey does NOT follow the “one-bite” or “free-bite” rule, which is a legal doctrine that says a dog owner can be held liable if the dog was vicious and the owner knew it – knowledge that would be gained only after the dog first bit someone. However, there are other defenses available to New Jersey dog owners that victims must be aware of before bringing a dog bite claim.

For example, New Jersey’s Comparative Negligence Act is applicable in dog bite actions. Under this Act, if the victim’s negligence is the primary cause of the dog bite injury – for instance, if the victim is tormenting or beating the animal and the dog bites back in self defense – they will likely not be able to recover damages. However, if the victim’s apportioned negligence is not greater than that of the defendant, they may still recover damages, but at an amount reduced by their percentage of fault.

As this article illustrates, the seemingly simple question of dog bite liability can quickly become increasingly complicated. As such, if you have been injured by a dog bite it is important to speak with an experienced dog bite attorney to be advised of your rights and options.

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