There is a statute under New Jersey state law that specifies the liability for dog bites (NJSA 4:19-16). Nevertheless, those who may be considering a dog bite personal injury lawsuit against the dog’s owner should know what the statute says.
New Jersey implements a strict liability rule for dog bites. The owner of a dog who attacks another person is liable for any damages even if there is no prior evidence that the dog is aggressive and prone to biting. The injured party only needs to prove that the defendant is indeed the owner of the animal, that the attack is the direct cause the injury, and that the plaintiff was in the vicinity of the animal legitimately or trespassing but without criminal intent.
The distinction of legitimacy is included in the conditions for proving liability because there are two circumstances in which the owner of the dog may be liable under the strict liability rule, but will not be required to pay damages for personal injury of the plaintiff. The first is when the plaintiff was in the vicinity of the animal as a trespasser with the intent to commit a crime i.e. robbery. If the plaintiff was trespassing but had no criminal intent i.e. wandered inadvertently onto the dog owner’s property then the exception does not apply and the owner will still be liable for damages.
The second exception to the dog bite law is when the plaintiff acted in a negligent manner which provoked the animal to attack. For example, if the plaintiff was throwing rocks at the dog, the plaintiff is considered partly responsible for the incident, and any damages awarded will be reduced by the percentage in which the plaintiff was responsible. An exception to this exception is when the injured party is below seven years of age.
Dog bites can lead to serious injury and even death, so owners have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those who have a legitimate reason to be in the vicinity of the animal. Failure to honor this responsibility can render the dog’s owner liable for considerable damages.