Dog Bites / Attacks

If you have been bitten by a dog it is important that you seek the advice of a lawyer promptly.  Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and likewise dog bites can range from a small playful nip that doesn’t break skin to a ferocious bite which tears through skin penetrating muscle sometimes causing serious complications and other times leaving the victim with a life-long reminder of the attack in the form of significant scarring and/or disfigurement.

If you have been bitten by a dog, it is important that you retain the services of a lawyer experienced in representing dog bite victims.  Our law firm has recovered substantial sums of money for victims of dog attacks.   We have represented children who have been bitten by dogs as well as seniors and everyone in between.  Most of our clients who have been bitten by a dog are required to undergo plastic and/or reconstructive surgery at some point after the attack, however, we also successfully represent dog attack victims that do not require corrective surgery.

Regardless of the severity of the attack, the medical treatment required for such an attack is often quite expensive.  Often times the pain associated with a dog bite can last for many years.  Most of all, the scars and disfiguring effects of the attack can be a daily reminder of the horrific incident.

The following is a brief introduction to the law of Dog Bites in the State of New Jersey:

 New Jersey is among the majority of American states that makes a dog owner legally liable for all of the damages inflicted upon a dog bite victim, even if the dog had never previously exhibited the propensity to bite humans. This liability results from New Jersey Statutes, section 4:19-16, which reads as follows:

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 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

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 scienter, negligence, and negligence per se. De Robertis v. Randazzo, 94 N.J. 144 (1983).

The following is a brief introduction to the law of Dog Bites in the State of New York:

New York courts have long recognized a cause of action that imposes strict liability on the owner for injuries inflicted by his dog if the victim can establish that the dog is vicious and that the owner knew or should have known about such vicious propensities. The state’s highest court ruled “that the owner of a domestic animal who either knows or should have known of that animal’s vicious propensities will be held liable for the harm the animal causes as a result of those propensities. Vicious propensities include the propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation.” Bard v. Jahnke, 6 NY3d 592 (N.Y. 2006), citation omitted.

The state’s highest court has ruled that a jury is entitled to consider any evidence of a dangerous propensity, and that a prior bite is only one such type of evidence:

While knowledge of vicious propensities “may of course be established by proof of prior acts of a similar kind of which the owner had notice,” a triable issue of fact as to whether the owner knew or should have known that its animal harbored vicious propensities may be raised by proof of something less (Collier, 1 NY3d at 446). In Collier, a case in which a dog bit a child, we gave the example of evidence that a dog had, for example, “been known to growl, snap or bare its teeth,” or that “the owner chose to restrain the dog, and the manner in which the dog was restrained” (id. at 447). “In addition, an animal that behaves in a manner that would not necessarily be considered dangerous or ferocious, but nevertheless reflects a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm, can be found to have vicious propensities albeit only when such proclivity results in the injury giving rise to the lawsuit” (id.). [Bard v. Jahnke, 6 NY3d 592 (N.Y. 2006).]

Presence of “Beware of Dog” signs standing alone are not enough to imply that dog owner knew of his dog’s vicious propensities.  Altmann vs Emigrant Savings Bank, 249 AD2d 67, 68 (First Dept, 1998); Frantz vs McGonagle, 242 AD2d 888 (Fourth Dept, 1997); Arcara vs Whytas, 219 AD2d 871, 872 (Fourth Dept, 1995).

A defendant who establishes by undisputed proof that his dog had never bitten anyone before and had never bared its teeth or growled at anyone before is entitled to summary judgment.  Arcara vs Whytas, 219 AD2d 871, 872 (Fourth Dept, 1995).

The fact that a dog was chained and strained on its chain and barked when people approached was held insufficient to create an inference that the dog was vicious.  Gill vs Welch, 136 AD2d 940 (Fourth Dept, 1988).

In determining whether an animal has vicious propensities, a jury may consider the nature and the result of the attack on the victim. Lynch vs Nacewicz, 126 AD2d 708, 709 (Second Dept, 1987).

Evidence of the severity of injuries by prior victims of same dog is admissible as probative of the dog’s vicious propensities and the owner’s knowledge of same. Lynch vs Nacewicz, 126 AD2d 708, 709 (Second Dept, 1987). 

Strict liability for medical costs:

Agriculture & Markets Law, Section 121, subdivision 10, makes the “owner or lawful custodian” of a “dangerous dog” “strictly liable” for medical costs resulting from “injury” caused by such dog to a person, “companion animal,” farm animal or “domestic animal.” Section 121 contains a number of definitions:

  • The “owner” is a person who harbors or keeps the dog. (Sec. 108, subd. 15.)
  • A “dangerous dog” is one that “without justification” either (a) attacks and injures or kills a person, “companion animal,” farm animal or “domestic animal” or (b) “behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death” to one or more of the foregoing. (Sec. 108, subd. 24(a).) There is an exception for dogs assisting the police. (Sec. 108, subd. 24(b).) The conduct of the victim, either on the day of the attack or at a much earlier time, also can exempt a dog from “dangerous” status. (Sec. 121, subd. 4.)

In addition to liability for medical costs, the owner of a dangerous dog may be required to pay a fine if his negligence results in a dog bite to a person, service dog, guide dog or hearing dog. The amount of the fine depends on whether the injury was to a person or animal, the seriousness of the injury, and whether the dog previously was adjudicated to be a dangerous dog. Agriculture & Markets Law, Section 121, subdivisions 6, 7 and 8.)

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