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Understanding the NJ Dog Bite Statute

Strict Liability for Dog Bites in New Jersey

New Jersey dog bite law has evolved significantly over the years.  The NJ dog bite statute (N.J.S.A. 4:19-16) is a strict liability statute.  This means that an owner of a dog is liable to a dog bite victim regardless of the viciousness of their dog.  Viciousness generally refers to whether or not the dog has been proven to be vicious in the past or has bitten someone prior to the latest incident.  The statute refers to a dog biting someone in a public place such as a park or sidewalk or while the victim is lawfully in or on a private place including the dog owner's property.  If you were bit in a public place or even in the home of the dog's owner (provided you are there lawfully), the dog's owner will be liable for your injuries if there are no defense factors.
The NJ dog bite statute, N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, states the following:

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 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.

The Three Elements of the NJ Dog Bite Statute

The elements of a dog bite case that have to be established in order to obtain a favorable judgment for the victim are:

  1. That the defendant was the owner of the dog in question.
  2. That the plaintiff was on or in a public place or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the defendant.
  3. That the dog did bite the plaintiff while in such a place.

Someone is lawfully upon private property when they are expressly or impliedly invited by the owner onto the property, or when they are in the performance of a legal duty, such as a mail carrier.

Does it Matter if it was the Dog's First Bite?

New Jersey's dog bite laws impose liability upon a dog owner regardless of whether the dog has bitten people on prior occasions or whether or not the owner has any knowledge of the dog's propensity to bite.  So even if a dog has never bitten anyone before and has never shown any signs of aggressive behavior, a dog owner will still be held strictly liable if his or her dog bites someone.

Common Defenses to a Dog Bite Claim

Generally, the NJ dog bite statute permits a defense based upon trespass by the dog bite victim, or if the dog bite occurred as a result of the victim's negligence.  A defendant in a NJ dog bite case may use the defense of negligence to minimize his or her liability to the dog bite victim.  If the defendant raises this defense, he or she bears the burden of proof to show that the victim of the dog bite was negligent.  The defendant must prove that the victim of the dog bite exposed themselves voluntarily to a known risk.  This can mean that the victim was previously aware of the violent propensity of the dog or that the victim deliberately intended to incite the dog to bite by teasing or taunting the dog, for example.

Experienced NJ Dog Bite Attorneys

Dog bite victims often have to deal with costly medical bills, they may miss days at school or work, and they often endure some pain and suffering.  If you or someone you love is the victim of a dog bite, you should seek legal representation from an experienced dog bite attorney immediately.  Our attorneys will be able to help you to obtain evidence, identify defendants and witnesses, and help you obtain compensation for your injuries.
As with all personal injury matters, there are no legal fees unless we recover for you.  Call the experienced dog bite attorneys at Villani & DeLuca at (732) 709-7757 for a free consultation.

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