Dog Bites: Who’s at Fault?

Dog bites are traumatic incidents, which can permanently scar their victims, both physically and emotionally. There have been several recent incidents in New Jersey in which infant children have received severe injuries from dog bites. In one case, a 10-month-old girl was attacked by the family dog while playing on the floor of her home. The infant’s injuries were so severe that she had to be admitted to the hospital and was listed in critical condition. The dog was a 5-year-old male pit bull and boxer mix that weighed between 50 and 60 pounds.

New Jersey follows the nation’s majority with regards to dog owner liability. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, the owner of any dog that bites a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the owner of the dog’s own property, shall be liable for any such damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. The statute further provides that “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 [New Jersey] 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.”

In order to recover under N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, the plaintiff victim only needs to prove: (1) that the defendant owned the dog, (2) that the dog bit the plaintiff, and (3) that the plaintiff was in a public place or lawfully on the owner’s property. The statute does not apply, however, if the victim’s injury was not actually caused by the dog bite, if the defendant was not the dog’s owner, or if the victim was trespassing without criminal intent. On the other hand, pursuant to De Robertis v. Randazzo, 94 N.J. 144 (1983), a cause of action may also be based upon common law strict liability, negligence, and negligence per se.

New Jersey has also enacted the Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1, which provides that a plaintiff may still recover even if they are partly at fault due to his or her own negligence. To do so, the plaintiff must prove that his or her own negligence did not contribute to the damages as much as the negligence of the party or parties against whom recovery is sought. Moreover, in order to recover, a plaintiff must be no greater than 50% at fault. If a plaintiff were found to have been comparatively negligent, his or her recovery for damages would be reduced by the percentage of his or her own negligence. According to Bush v. New Jersey and New York Transit Company, 30 N.J. 345 (1959), however, any victim under the age of seven (7) is presumed to have not been negligent. In addition, this presumption is basically irrefutable for victims who are four years of age or younger.

The Law Offices of Gregg A. Wisotsky has represented dog bite victims in Morris County, Somerset County, Passaic County and throughout North Jersey. Contact us today for effective representation and personalized attention. We can come to you if your dog bite injuries prevent travel. Call 9738980161 for a free phone consultation or to arrange a meeting at our offices in Parsippany or Wayne.

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