New Jersey is among the “strict liability” states when it comes to dog bites. The liability stems from N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, which reads:
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.
For the purpose of this section, a person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner when he/she is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he/she is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner thereof.[i]
Although the language of the statute is relatively clear, it can be broken down into elements which must be proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, in order for a defendant to be found liable. A plaintiff must prove:
- That the defendant was the owner of the dog in question;
- That the plaintiff was on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the defendant; and
- That the dog did bite the plaintiff while in such a place.
The statute imposes liability on the dog’s owner regardless of whether he knew or should have known of the dog’s former viciousness. In addition, case law has established that a “bite” for purposes of the statute does not require broken skin.[ii]
While the New Jersey Dog Bite law is strict when it comes to liability in a dog bite case, there are a few defenses to liability. Two defenses include comparative negligence and trespassing. Comparative negligence describes an instance where the plaintiff provoked the dog to attack. A trespassing defense simply describes a situation where a person was on private property without permission and was then bitten by a dog. It is important to know of the potential defenses that may be raised so they can be addressed in a way that does not negatively impact your claim.
If you have been injured as a result of a dog bite, call the dog bite lawyers at Hyberg, White & Mann to schedule a free consultation. For us, it’s personal. Let us work to get you the compensation you deserve.
[i] N.J.S.A. 4:19-16
[ii] DeVivio v. Anderson, 410 N.J. Super. 175
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