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New Jersey Dog Bite Laws

Protecting Yourself After a Dog Bite in New Jersey

For the most part, dogs live up to the title “Man’s Best Friend.” However, some may be prone to viciousness or lash out for unknown reasons. If you’re on the other end of this aggression, you could suffer serious injuries through a dog bite or other type of animal attack. 

Fortunately, New Jersey (NJ) does impose liability on certain individuals when their furry friends cause bodily harm. NJ dog bite laws are designed to ensure dog owners take responsibility for their pets’ actions.

Understanding these laws is essential for dog owners and potential victims to know their rights and responsibilities. Being aware of these laws can help prevent dog bites and ensure that victims receive proper compensation for their injuries.

Quick Summary:

  • New Jersey’s dog bite laws hold dog owners liable for their pet’s actions, ensuring they take responsibility for any harm caused.
  • The state’s laws distinguish between strict liability for dog bites under NJSA § 4:19-16 and negligence cases where the owner failed to control the dog or violated laws.
  • If bitten, victims should seek medical attention, report the incident to animal control, and gather evidence to support their case.
  • Compensation for dog bite injuries can cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, scarring, and emotional distress.
  • Dog owners have defenses like provocation, trespassing, and comparative negligence to mitigate liability in certain situations.

What Counts as a Dog Bite?

A dog bite isn’t just a scratch or a bump from a dog. It’s when a dog’s teeth break the skin and cause a wound. Depending on the dog and the situation, that can range from a small mark to a severe injury. Even if the dog didn’t mean to hurt someone or if it was just playing, if its teeth break the skin, it’s considered a dog bite.

A dog bite is more than just a bite. It’s a legal and medical issue that can have serious consequences. By understanding what counts as a dog bite and knowing your rights, you can protect yourself and get the help you need if it happens to you.

Multiple Theories of Liability Under Dog Bite Laws in NJ

In general, people who sustain injuries due to an attack by a dog may be able to recover compensation for their losses. Still, there are distinctions about the specific theory of liability for the owner or handler.

Strict Liability for Dog Bites

Under NJSA § 4:19-16, dog owners have strict liability for their dog’s actions. That means anyone bitten by the dog, as long as they didn’t provoke it or trespass on private property, may file a lawsuit against the owner. 

The victim doesn’t have to prove that the person knew the dog had bitten someone before or had acted viciously in the past. You could be entitled to legal relief if you’re bitten in a public place or while legally present in a private location. The statute only applies to dog bites, so you cannot seek compensation under the statute’s strict liability if you were only mauled.

Negligence

If you were hurt in an attack not involving a bite, you may be able to recover monetary damages by proving that the dog’s owner was negligent in handling it. These individuals have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to control the dog’s behavior, so a breach of this duty could make the owner accountable for all resulting harm.

But someone who was hurt by a dog without being bitten might still be able to receive compensation for their injuries. They must be able to prove either that:

  • the incident resulted from the dog owner’s negligence, or
  • the owner knew (or should have known) that their dog had potentially dangerous habits.

An example of negligence may be a store owner allowing a dog to roam freely within the premises, knowing it had bitten someone before.

Negligence Per Se

The same rules on negligence may apply in a situation where the dog’s owner was engaged in unlawful acts. For instance, if the dog was not on a leash while out walking, in violation of New Jersey’s leash laws, you may have a claim of negligence per se.

What Do I Do If I’ve Been Attacked by a Dog in New Jersey? 

Getting bitten by a dog can be scary and confusing, especially if you’re unsure what to do next. If a dog bites you in NJ, there are some steps you should take and things you should know about your rights and options.

Seek Medical Attention

The first thing you should do if a dog bites you is to get medical help immediately, even if the bite doesn’t seem serious. Dog bites can lead to infections and other complications, so it’s crucial to have a doctor check it out. 

Report the Bite

Report the bite to your local animal control department. That helps them track dog bites in the area and ensure the dog’s health is checked for rabies. They can help make sure the dog is properly quarantined and may also be able to provide information about the dog’s history. Reporting the bite can also help protect others from being bitten by the same dog.

Gather Evidence

If you can, take pictures of the bite wound, the dog, and the scene of the attack. Try to also get witness statements from anyone who saw what happened.

Know Your Rights

In New Jersey, if a dog bites you, the owner is usually responsible for your medical bills and other damages. That is known as “strict liability,” which means the owner is held accountable even if they didn’t know their dog would bite or if the dog has never bitten anyone before.

Consider Your Legal Options

If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you have the right to seek compensation for your medical expenses, pain, and suffering, lost wages if you had to miss work, and other damages. You can either try to negotiate with the dog owner’s insurance company or file a lawsuit to recover these damages.

Your Rights as the Victim of a Dog Bite

If you can prove the essential elements of a dog bite case based upon strict liability or negligence, you may be able to recover monetary damages for your losses. Depending on the details, your compensation may include:

Medical Expenses

That is the most common type of damage awarded in dog bite cases. It covers the costs associated with treating your injury, including:

  • Emergency room visits
  • Doctor appointments
  • Medications
  • Surgeries
  • Physical therapy
  • Any future medical care needed because of the bite

Lost Wages

If your injuries from the dog bite prevent you from working, you can be compensated for the income you lose. That includes both salary and benefits.

Pain and Suffering

Dog bites can be incredibly painful, both physically and emotionally. New Jersey law allows you to recover damages for this pain and suffering.

Scarring and Disfigurement

Dog bites can leave permanent scars. The law recognizes the emotional and social impact of scarring and allows compensation for it.

Emotional Distress

In some cases, the emotional trauma caused by the dog bite can be significant. Compensation might be available for anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Common Defenses for a Dog Bite in New Jersey

If you’re a dog owner in NJ and your dog has bitten someone, you might be wondering about the defenses you can use if someone tries to claim you. While NJ dog bite laws often hold owners responsible for their dog’s actions, there are some common defenses that dog owners can use to protect themselves.

Provocation

One of the most common defenses is provocation. That means the dog bit someone because they were provoked or teased in some way. If someone was bothering or hurting the dog before it bit them, that can be a defense for the owner. Remember, the provocation must be significant enough to cause the dog to bite.

Trespassing

It can also be a defense if someone was trespassing on your property when they were bitten by your dog. In New Jersey, if a person is unlawfully on your property and gets bitten by your dog, you may not be held liable for their injuries. That is based on the principle that people shouldn’t be on your property without permission. You shouldn’t be responsible for their safety in that situation.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal concept that looks at the actions of the dog owner and the person who was bitten. It asks whether the person who was bitten did something that contributed to the bite happening. If they did, their compensation can be reduced based on their fault.

Under NJSA § 2A:15-5.1, a victim may pursue compensation for their injuries as long as their share of fault is 50% or less. The court then reduces the total damages by that percentage of fault.

Contact Our New Jersey Dog Bite Lawyers to Discuss Your Rights

Dog bites can be a frightening experience, leaving you with physical and emotional wounds. Whether you’re a dog owner or someone who’s been bitten, understanding NJ dog bite law is necessary for everyone. It helps to know who’s responsible when a dog bite happens and what steps to take next.

If you’re a dog owner facing a claim or a victim seeking compensation, our Shrewsbury personal injury attorneys at Kreizer Law can help you understand your rights. Our personal injury law firm can explain the specifics of New Jersey’s dog bite laws and how they apply to your case.

We’ll guide you through the entire legal process, from filing a claim to negotiating with insurance companies. We’ll handle the paperwork, deadlines, and legal procedures so you can focus on getting better.

We’ll investigate the situation, gather evidence, and help determine who’s liable for the bite. If you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages, we’ll fight to make sure you get what you deserve. 

Schedule a free consultation with us today to discuss your situation and answer any questions you might have. Let us help you fight for your rights and explore your legal options. We can also help you deal with nursing home abuse, medical malpractice, sexual abuse, worker’s compensation, and wrongful conviction cases in New Jersey.

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