When we think of dogs, we naturally think of them as man’s best friend and oftentimes treat them like members of our families. Many times it is hard for us to remember that they are animals by nature and act as such. The sad truth is that 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year.
Moreover, according to the Center for Disease Control, each year 16 Americans lose their lives due to dog bites.
There is Legal Recourse
Contrary to popular belief, a dog bite victim is protected by the law. Many people wrongly believe that they cannot bring suit against anyone for their injuries because they were caused by an animal, not a human being. They think, “How can I sue a dog?”
Similarly, some feel as though they cannot sue the owner because the dog did the biting. However, this could not be further from the truth. It is crucial to understand that the law provides victims with a remedy to seek compensation against the owner of the dog.
In the same way that an employer can be held responsible for the injurious actions of his employees, a dog owner will be held liable for the actions of his dog.
New Jersey’s Approach to Dog Bites
In New Jersey, dog bite victims are given statutory protection under N.J.S.A. 4:19-6. This law is designed to protect individuals who are in a public place or lawfully in a private place and get bitten by dogs.
In the unfortunate event that you are bitten by a dog in NJ, the owner will be liable for the injuries you sustain whether or not the dog had a history of biting people or being vicious.
Remember, this law only protects those who are in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This means trespassers cannot sue for damages.
Additionally, the “one bite rule” does not apply in New Jersey.
If your dog never bit a single person before and was always nice to everyone it met, this will be entirely irrelevant in NJ. If your dog bit someone, you are strictly liable.
How to Win a Case
If you are the victim, there are three things you need to establish in order to win a dog bite case.
- First, you will have to establish that the person you are suing actually is the owner of the dog. (You would be surprised how many people deny this until you prove it.)
- Second, you need to prove that you were in a public place or lawfully in a private place (i.e. you were not trespassing) at the time of the incident.
- Lastly, you must prove that the dog actually bit you in that place.
In many situations, the dog owner will claim that you acted in a way that amounted to an “unreasonable and voluntary exposure to a known risk.”
In plan English, this defense is used when the dog owner wants to claim that you deliberately acted in a manner to incite the dog or had knowledge that the dog had a propensity for biting.
Basically, this common defense attempts to shift the fault back onto you. If this defense is successful, it will preclude your recovery entirely and you will not see a dime. Therefore, be prepared to marshal evidence showing that you did not incite the animal and had no idea whether it was a known biter or not.
This can be done with affidavits (i.e. sworn statements by those who were there) or in-court testimony by eye-witnesses. The key to winning is doing your home work and connecting the dots for a judge and jury.
Do not simply think that pointing to the dog owner and then to your gruesome injury is going to be enough to win. It may be a no-brainer to you and the world, but in a court of law it is all about the evidence.
To learn more and be better prepared for your case, see our section on Dog Bite Lawsuits.