More than half the states make the dog owner liable if their dog causes an injury, whether or not the owner had reason to think their dog was dangerous. Although commonly called dog-bite statutes, many of these state laws cover all kinds of injuries inflicted by dogs, not only bites. The New Jersey Dog Bite statutes are called “strict liability” statutes because they impose liability without fault, meaning an injured person does not have to prove that the dog owner did anything wrong.
The theory behind these laws is that anyone who has a dog should be responsible for any damage it causes, without any excuses. It doesn’t matter that the owner was careful with the dog, or didn’t know it would hurt anyone, or tried to keep the dog from injuring anyone.
New Jersey Statute 4:19-16 Liability of owner regardless of viciousness of dog
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 public 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 on 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 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 is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner thereof.
To recover under N.J.S.A 4:19-16, a plaintiff must prove only that the defendant owned the dog, that the dog bit the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff was in a public place or lawfully on the owner’s property. The statute does not apply if the victim was trespassing without criminal intent, or the injury was not caused by a bite, or the target defendant was not the dog’s owner.
However, a cause of action also can be based upon common law strict liability for knowledge of wrongdoing, negligence and negligence per se (need not prove that a reasonable person should have acted differently).
There are two types of dog bite claims in which the defendant may appear liable without having to pay the victim at all, or without the responsibility of paying all of the victim’s losses. The first involves a victim who was trespassing. The dog bite statute permits a defense based upon trespass, but only if the trespasser had criminal intent.
The second is a claim based upon an accident that was caused by more than one person. For example, the victim’s conduct might have been wrongful and therefore negligent, or the dog might have been in the process of being walked by a professional dog walker who was inattentive and therefore negligent.
In such cases, the dog owner’s liability is not truly “strict”, but “almost strict,” in that the plaintiff cannot recover if his responsibility for the accident is greater than the responsibility of whoever else may be held responsible, and furthermore, he can recover from each defendant only the amount that corresponds to that person’s fault. For example, if the victim was not looking where he was going, and the jury believed that the victim was negligent, the jury could attribute 50% of the fault to the victim, in which event the victim would receive 50% of his losses. Another example would involve the dog walker. If the jury believed that the victim was not negligent, the jury might attribute 50% of the loss to the dog walker and 50% to the dog owner.
New Jersey has partially eliminated the joint and several rule, meaning that a defendant who is less than 60% responsible for any accident can be required to pay all of the economic expenses but only that portion of the noneconomic losses (such as pain and suffering) which equals his actual percentage of fault.
The Personal Injury lawyers at Artusa can help protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome for your dog bite case. You don’t need to face this alone and you shouldn’t, give us a call today and let us get started on your case right away.