Table of Contents
- Finding an Attorney for Your Case
- Elements of a Dog-Related Injury Claim
- Pursuing Compensation
- Frequently Asked Questions
Overview of dog bite and dog-related injury claims in New Jersey
According to the Insurance Information Institute, New Jersey is among the top 10 states by number and cost of dog bite insurance claims. Insurance claims in the state cost a total of over $20 million per year. Like many other states, New Jersey has a “strict liability” statute that applies to dog bites. A successful claim under this statute only requires that you prove:
- the defendant is the owner of the dog;
- the dog bit you, resulting in losses; and
- you were in a public place or legally on private property at the time of the incident.
When pursuing a strict liability claim, you don’t have to prove that the owner behaved irresponsibly (or “negligently”) in handling their dog. It also doesn’t matter if the dog has never bitten anyone else. Once a dog bites, the owner can still be liable — not just for the dog bite injuries, but for all injuries sustained in the attack.
If a dog didn’t actually bite you, but injured you in another way (such as scratching you, knocking you over, or causing an accident by chasing you while you’re on a bicycle or motorcycle), you won’t be able to pursue a claim under the state’s dog bite statute. Instead, you’ll have to pursue a negligence claim to recover compensation for your injuries. A negligence claim generally involves proving that:
- the defendant owed a duty to take reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring you;
- the defendant failed to take reasonable care, therefore “breaching” their duty; and
- as a result of the breach of duty, you were injured by the dog and suffered losses.
A dog’s behavioral history (such as prior attacks or other aggressive behavior) is often important for a negligence claim. This is because it helps determine what “reasonable care” means.
Note that defendants may raise certain defenses in either a strict liability or a negligence case that could result in the court reducing or denying compensation. Trespassing and provocation are two of the most common defenses. See Pursuing Compensation for more information about building a case and pursuing compensation, including common defenses.
Dangerous dog laws in New Jersey
While certain breeds tend to get the most attention when it comes to dog bites, dogs of any breed or size have the potential to cause serious damage. Sometimes even trusted family pets bite or attack. If a dog may be dangerous, New Jersey has a legal procedure for controlling them. If a dog bites you, you should report the incident to the local animal control office. An animal control officer will then investigate the incident and confirm that the dog’s rabies and other vaccinations are current.
In certain situations, the dog will be impounded and the officer will notify the owner and the court. These situations include if the dog:
- attacked a person unprovoked and caused death or serious injury to a person;
- caused injuries in an unprovoked attack and poses a serious threat to people or domestic animals;
- engaged in dog fighting;
- has been trained or encouraged to engage in unprovoked attacks on people or domestic animals.
There will then be a hearing and the court will decide whether the dog is “vicious” or “potentially dangerous.” If the dog is vicious or potentially dangerous, the court will require the owner to meet certain requirements to keep the dog, which may include:
- getting a special license
- posting warning signs on their property
- keeping the dog in a locked enclosure or, if taken out, on a strong leash and muzzled
- maintaining liability insurance in an amount determined by the court
Failure to meet these conditions could result in a fine of up to $1,000 for each day of violation. A dog may also be euthanized if it’s responsible for a death or serious injuries.
Dog-related injuries while on the job — workers’ compensation
If you’re an employee and were bitten or otherwise injured by a dog while on the job (such as when delivering mail or packages, performing repairs, or house cleaning), your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance may be another source of compensation. This will require working with your employer to file a claim.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, which means you should get benefits regardless of who was at fault — whether you, your employer, or a coworker. In exchange for these benefits, you typically cannot sue your employer for compensation unless they engaged in intentional misconduct.
As with any other dog bite or dog-related injury, you should be sure to get medical attention right away. You should also be sure to report the injury as work-related. If you fail to get medical attention and report the injury as work-related, your chances of getting workers’ compensation benefits decrease greatly.
In addition, note that not all workers are covered under the workers’ compensation system. Workers’ compensation insurance only covers employees — not “independent contractors.” If you’re issued a W-2, it means the business has classified you as an employee. If you’re issued a 1099, the business has classified you as an independent contractor.
However, sometimes businesses misclassify employees as independent contractors, whether intentionally or unintentionally. An attorney can help you confirm your proper classification and pursue compensation from the appropriate sources. An attorney can also be helpful even if you’re classified as an employee and know the process for filing a workers’ compensation claim. It’s not uncommon for insurers to resist paying out full benefits, especially if your injuries require extensive medical treatment or long periods off from work. With an attorney advocating on your behalf, you’re much more likely to get the compensation that’s rightfully yours.
If you’re concerned about how your employer might react if you seek workers’ compensation, keep in mind that New Jersey law specifically prohibits retaliation against employees for pursuing, inquiring about, or exercising rights under the workers’ compensation statute. This means your employer may not fire you, harass you, or otherwise discriminate against you for pursuing workers’ compensation. If your employer does retaliate, they may be subject to fines or even jail time. You would also have grounds for a retaliation lawsuit against them. If you experience any problems, you should keep detailed records and consult an attorney.
Even if you pursue a workers’ compensation claim, you may be able to pursue other types of claims as well. For example, if you were bitten, you may have a claim against the dog’s owner under New Jersey’s strict liability statute. You may also have a negligence claim against the owner or another third party that is not your employer. The interaction between different types of claims can become complex. It’s best to have the same attorney investigate the incident, identify all the options available to you, and handle the workers’ compensation claim and any personal injury claims you may have.
Many dog owners consider their dogs a part of their families. But if another dog injures your dog or another pet, New Jersey law will treat the injured pet as property. This means you may be able to pursue a property damage claim and recover economic losses, such as vet bills, the purchase price of a similar pet, or training costs. However, you won’t be able to get compensation for non-economic damages, such as mental distress.
Because the amount of damages available in these cases is much smaller, it’s common to pursue compensation in small claims court. You’ll generally have to prove that the other dog’s owner acted irresponsibly (or “negligently”), which resulted in your losses. This is sometimes difficult in a dog-on-dog attack, as it’s not always clear which dog attacked first. Note that you generally have six years to file a property damage case, instead of the two-year deadline for a personal injury case. (See Pursuing Compensation — Statute of limitations.) Even so, it’s always better to begin your case as soon as possible, as gathering strong evidence can become much more difficult as more time passes.
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Common types of injuries
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year for dog bites. The estimated cost of these bites is at least $400 million per year. One study also found that the average dog bite-related hospital stay was $18,200, or approximately 50% higher than the average injury-related hospital stay. But bites aren’t the only kind of dog-related injury.
Even if the dog doesn’t bite, getting knocked down or trying to fight off a dog can still cause serious injury. Accidents can also occur when trying to escape or avoid a dog, whether on foot or on a skateboard, bicycle, or motorcycle.
Some common types of dog-related injuries include:
- Cuts, lacerations, and abrasions
- Damage to tendons, ligaments, muscles, and nerves
- Broken or fractured bones (either from being knocked down or by the force of the bite)
- Neck, shoulder, and back injuries, such as herniated, bulging, or ruptured discs
- Facial/eye trauma (especially among small children or others who come face-to-face with the dog)
- Head and traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and hemorrhaging
- Deep bruising
Dog bites present the risk of diseases like rabies and tetanus as well. While these diseases are rare, they can be fatal if left untreated. This is why it’s important to find out the vaccination status of any dog that attacks you and immediately consult with a medical professional to determine if you need any shots.
There are also many other types of bacteria present in the mouths of dogs that can be harmful if transmitted to humans. For example, Staphylococcus and Pasteurella can cause infections with symptoms like red, hot, swollen skin and chronic infections of deep tissues and bone.
Capnocytophaga is another common bacteria in the mouths of dogs that may cause infection. While such infections are rare, people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk of becoming ill with symptoms like:
- Blisters, swelling, and redness around the wound
- Muscle or joint point
- Blood infection
- Kidney failure
Some of the dog-related injuries discussed above are relatively minor and require no medical attention. But in the worst case scenario, dog-related injuries may even lead to death, especially when small children are involved. Many others are extremely painful and can have a significant impact on your life, either temporarily or permanently.
For example, some dog bite victims may need to undergo reconstructive surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there are over 40,000 surgical procedures per year related to dog bite repair. Or you may need to go through rehabilitation, physical therapy, or other prolonged medical treatment. You also may not be able to work (or be limited in the type of work you’re able to do), carry out your everyday activities, or care for your family. The psychological effects of a dog attack, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can impact your life for a long time as well.
Calculating all of your economic and non-economic losses resulting from a dog attack is not easy to do on your own. This is another reason why it’s important to engage an experienced attorney. Your attorney will work with the appropriate experts to determine the full extent of your losses and help you pursue the right amount of compensation.
What to do after a dog bite or other dog-related injury
Dog bites and attacks often come as a surprise, and it can be difficult to think clearly in the immediate aftermath. But to preserve your chances of receiving compensation for your injuries, you should take the steps below as soon as possible.
Get medical attention.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five people bitten by a dog requires medical attention. You should get emergency medical attention for any deep lacerations or heavy bleeding, broken bones, or other severe injuries. But if you have open wounds of any kind, it’s still a good idea to get medical care right away so the doctor can determine if you need vaccinations or other treatment to prevent disease (such as rabies) and infection.
Note that if you don’t seek prompt medical care, insurance companies will likely argue that you weren’t injured by the dog, which could hurt your case. You should also make sure you follow your doctor’s orders for caring for your injuries, including any follow-up visits. If you fail to follow instructions and the injury ends up worse than it otherwise would have been, your compensation may be affected. Be sure to keep records of all medical visits, treatments, tests, and prescriptions related to your injuries.
Identify the dog’s owner.
If the owner is present, take down their name and contact details. Also try to get information about the dog, including whether its rabies and other vaccinations are current. However, it’s best to limit your interactions with the owner. Don’t discuss details about what happened, admit any fault, or say you’re “fine.” If you need to pursue a claim later on, these statements may be used against you.
If the dog’s owner isn’t present during the incident, the police or the local animal control office may be able to help you identify the owner. Finding the dog owner is often crucial for getting compensation under New Jersey’s dog bite statute. It’s also usually necessary for a negligence claim, unless another party’s negligence resulted in your injuries.
Report the incident.
Even if you have the owner’s information, you should still report serious dog bites or attacks to the police and the local animal control office. These official reports will serve as important evidence in your case. Reporting the incident will also help the animal control office keep records of any aggressive dogs, which could help any future victims.
Take photos and/or videos.
While medical records will document your medical history and treatment, they usually don’t include photos. So as soon as you’re able, take photos and video of your injuries. Also take pictures of your injuries over time, including any scarring. This evidence can go a long way in persuading a court about the seriousness of your injuries. It’s also helpful to document the scene of the attack and any other relevant items, such as torn or bloody clothing.
Get contact information from witnesses.
If any bystanders witnessed the attack, try to get their contact information. If you file a claim, you and your attorney may need to reach out to them again later on. As always, be careful not to discuss what happened or admit any responsibility for the attack during your interactions, as this may hurt your case.
Write down your account of events.
Over time, you may begin to forget important details about the incident. So you should write down your own account of what happened while it’s still fresh in your memory. Try to include as many details as possible about what you saw and heard. Sometimes seemingly insignificant details can have a big impact on your case. You may also want to keep a journal about your physical and mental state and how the injuries are impacting your life. This narrative may be helpful later on when you explain what happened to a lawyer and begin building your case.
Contact a lawyer.
Talking to an attorney as soon as possible is one of the most important steps to take after a dog bite or other dog-related injury. There are strict deadlines for filing a claim, and if you miss these deadlines, you’ll no longer be able to pursue compensation. (See Pursuing Compensation — Statute of limitations.)
Trying to file an insurance claim or pursuing a lawsuit on your own also isn’t easy. Without the right experience, it’s easy to make mistakes that could cost you valuable compensation. By getting an experienced personal injury attorney on your side, you’ll have someone to guide you through the entire process, help you meet all legal requirements, and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation. (See Finding an Attorney for Your Case.)
Finding an Attorney for Your Case
Your chances of getting the best possible outcome in your case increase significantly when you engage an experienced personal injury lawyer. Dog owners and their insurers will want to pay out as little as possible, so it’s common for them to offer a much lower settlement than you actually deserve or even deny responsibility completely. There are also many opportunities along the way to make mistakes that could end up hurting your ability to get compensation.
By working with the right personal injury attorney, you’ll have someone experienced on your side to manage all communications and advocate for your best interests. In particular, your attorney will:
- help you understand your rights and options;
- investigate your case and identify all legally responsible parties;
- establish the potential value of your claim;
- handle all communications and negotiations with third parties, including the insurance company;
- gather evidence and interview witnesses;
- engage appropriate experts to support your case; and
- navigate complicated court procedures and legal requirements.
While trying to find an attorney may seem like it’ll only add to your stress while you’re recovering, it’s critical to act quickly. If you wait too long, important evidence may be lost. You also risk missing legal deadlines. By getting the help of an attorney immediately, you’ll be in a much better position to build the strongest possible case and meet all deadlines. You’ll also no longer have to deal with calls about the incident from the dog owner’s insurer or anyone else, as your attorney will handle everything on your behalf.
What to bring to a legal consultation
When meeting with a potential attorney, you should bring any evidence you have with you. This may include:
- medical records (bills, diagnoses, MRI/CT/test results, etc.)
- photos or videos of your injuries and/or the scene of the incident
- any contact information you have for the dog owner, their insurer, and any witnesses
- your own written account of what happened before, during, and after the incident
- any other relevant information or documents
All of this will help the lawyer better understand what happened. If they believe they can help you and you decide to work together, a more thorough investigation will be conducted on your behalf.
What to look for in an attorney
The quality of your attorney will affect the success of your case, so you should choose one carefully. Here are a few things to look for when hiring a personal injury lawyer:
The attorney you choose should have experience with similar cases, including dealing with the insurance system and all relevant laws. During your initial consultation, it’s a good idea to ask about the attorney’s specific experience, including how long they’ve been practicing and how many cases they’ve handled.
You’ll likely have plenty of choices when looking for a personal injury attorney. But even among experienced lawyers, some are able to achieve better results than others. This is why it’s also a good idea to ask for a short list of an attorney’s biggest settlements and verdicts. If an attorney can show a strong record of successful verdicts, that will tell you that they’re not afraid of bringing a case to trial. This is important, because sometimes going to trial is necessary to get fair compensation.
Preparing, negotiating, and litigating a personal injury case is time-consuming and expensive. That’s true even if a case settles, and a settlement is never guaranteed. That’s why the attorney you choose should have the financial resources and support to handle the case all the way through trial, if needed. They should also have connections with high-quality experts. When meeting with an attorney, you can get a sense of their resources by asking about their average expenditures on similar cases. You can also ask about the most they’ve ever spent to bring a case to verdict.
Having an attorney who doesn’t pay attention to your case can make an already-stressful situation even more stressful. An inattentive attorney may also miss crucial details that could affect the outcome of your case. To avoid these kinds of problems, you’ll want to get a sense of how an attorney will respond to you before you hire them. Ask them during the initial consultation how you can communicate with them, as well as how long they’ll typically take to return your messages.
Hiring an attorney for a personal injury case is almost always a worthwhile investment. But you also don’t want to be surprised by unexpected fees. For this reason, don’t be afraid to ask about a lawyer’s fee structure before hiring them. Keep in mind that it’s standard for personal injury attorneys to take cases on contingency. That means you shouldn’t have to pay anything up front. The attorney will only get paid if they win money for you in a settlement or at trial. Their fee will be a percentage of your award.
When choosing a lawyer, you should also be wary of any attorney who claims they can get you money fast. While getting compensation quickly sounds great, especially if you’re facing medical bills or you’re unable to work, this may not be in your best interest.
A lawyer who says they can resolve a case quickly isn’t necessarily a good lawyer. And a case taking several years, like many personal injury cases do, doesn’t mean that the attorney is bad. In fact, the best way to ensure maximum compensation is to thoroughly prepare and negotiate a case.
Unfortunately, there are many law firms who are more interested in quick payouts than getting maximum compensation. Instead of aggressively advocating on behalf of their clients, they quickly resolve cases for smaller amounts. The smaller amounts are acceptable to these law firms because they can make up the fees by taking on a larger volume of cases. But that only benefits them, and not you, as the client. If you come across a law firm that settles a lot of cases quickly, you should consider it a red flag.
Looking for the best dog-related injury lawyer in New Jersey?
At Rosenblum Law, we understand how painful and frightening a dog attack can be and the impact dog-related injuries can have on your life. If you’ve been a victim of a dog attack, we’ll thoroughly evaluate your situation and determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances. If we’re able to take on your case, we’ll guide you through the entire process and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation. We also have relationships with experts who we can bring on to support your case if needed.
In addition, if we’re not the right law firm for you, we provide guidance in selecting a law firm for your case. We have a large network with dozens of law firms that we have pre-screened to ensure that you’ll get the best law firm for your specific case.
For a free consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us through our website at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about helping all our clients get the compensation they’re owed — and we won’t take a fee unless we win a settlement or verdict for you.
Elements of a Dog-Related Injury Claim
As noted in Chapter 1, dog-related injury claims generally fall into two categories: strict liability claims and negligence claims. The facts you must prove to win these claims in court (called the “elements” of the claims) are described in more detail below. Insurance companies also analyze these elements when evaluating a claim. No matter which type of claim you pursue, building a strong legal case is a complex process. For the best chances of success, you should work with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Identifying responsible parties
One of the first steps in any case is identifying the proper defendant. If you’re pursuing a strict liability claim under New Jersey’s dog bite statute, you’ll need to identify the owner of the dog that bit you. Note that New Jersey’s dog bite statute doesn’t define “owner.” Instead, the court will look at all the circumstances to determine ownership. It’s possible someone may be considered the owner of a dog even if the dog isn’t officially registered to that person.
In Pippin v. Fink, for example, a child was bitten by a dog while on the property of the defendants. The defendants lived as a couple, shared responsibility for the dog, and held themselves out to the world as owners of the dog. While only one of the defendants purchased and registered the dog, the court found that the evidence weighed in favor of finding them both owners for purposes of the dog bite statute.
If you’re pursuing a negligence claim, you’ll have to identify the individual or individuals whose negligent behavior caused your injuries. As in a strict liability claim, this is often the dog’s owner. If you were bitten by a loose dog and the owner isn’t present, the police and/or the local animal control office may be able to help you identify the owner.
If you’re unable to find the owner, or if the dog is a stray, pursuing compensation is a lot more difficult. However, in some negligence cases, someone other than the owner may be responsible as well.
For example, landlords and other property owners have a legal responsibility to keep their property reasonably safe for people who they know are on their property. This includes protecting those people from a dog on the property that the property owner knows is dangerous. If a property owner knows an aggressive dog is on their property, and that dog injures you while you’re on their property, the property owner may be liable. But if they are not aware of the dog’s dangerousness, they generally will not be responsible.
This principle is illustrated in the New Jersey case Hyun Na Seo v. Yozgadlian. In this case, the plaintiff was a tenant in a building owned by two of the defendants. A third defendant, an employee of the landlord defendants, lived in the basement of the home and kept a dog. Upon moving in, the plaintiff understood that no pets were allowed on the property. The plaintiff complained to the landlord defendants about the presence of the dog, and the landlord defendants asked the dog owner defendant to remove the dog. However, the dog owner defendant did not remove the dog, and the plaintiff was eventually bitten by the dog while on the property.
At trial, the judge determined that the landlord defendants did not have knowledge that the dog was vicious. Still, the judge held the landlord defendants responsible and awarded damages to the plaintiff. However, on appeal, the court reversed this decision, holding that the landlords could only be held responsible for the dog bite if they were aware of its vicious propensities.
Identifying all legally responsible parties in your case will often require a thorough understanding of the laws as well as some investigation. Your attorney will help investigate the incident, identify all potential responsible parties in your case, and devise a strategy for recovering maximum compensation.
Strict liability claims
Strict liability claims under New Jersey’s dog bite statute are limited to incidents involving a dog bite. In a strict liability case, it doesn’t matter if the dog has no history of biting or aggression — the owner may still be liable.
To win a strict liability dog bite case, you generally need to prove three things:
- The defendant was the owner of the dog in question
- The dog bit you
- You were in a public place or legally on private property (that is, with the express or implied permission of the property owner) at the time the dog bit you
So long as you were bitten, you can also pursue compensation for any other injuries you sustained in the attack. Note that a “bite” doesn’t require broken skin or lacerations. If a dog seizes any part of you with its jaws, that is generally considered a bite.
In DeVivo v. Anderson, for example, the defendant’s dog clamped on the plaintiff’s arm as she passed by the defendant’s property. The plaintiff was wearing a winter coat, so there were no puncture wounds. However, her arm was swollen and she sustained shoulder injuries in the attack. The defendants argued that no bite occurred because there was no broken skin or any evidence of a bite, and therefore, the dog bite statute did not apply. However, the court ultimately found in favor of the plaintiff, holding that punctures were not necessary to fall under the statute so long as the dog seized her arm with its jaws.
A negligence claim may also be appropriate in some cases, especially if you can’t meet one or more elements of a strict liability claim. For example, a negligence claim may be an option if:
- the owner’s carelessness resulted in their dog injuring you, but not biting you; or
- someone other than the dog’s owner behaved irresponsibly, resulting in the dog biting or otherwise injuring you.
To win a negligence claim, you have to prove four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
First, you have to prove that the defendant owed a duty to you. Everyone has a general duty to act with reasonable care under the circumstances so as to not injure others. For a dog owner, this may include keeping a dog leashed or taking other measures to ensure the dog doesn’t behave in a way that injures someone.
Once you’ve established the duty owed by the defendant, you’ll have to prove that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to take reasonable care under the circumstances (in other words, that they acted “negligently”). If the defendant acted negligently, they are legally responsible for any injury or harm that resulted.
Negligent behavior by itself isn’t enough to win a personal injury case. You’ll also have to prove that their negligence caused your injuries. In other words, you have to show that if it weren’t for the defendants’ actions (or failure to act), you wouldn’t have been injured.
While this may seem straightforward, some defendants may argue that even if they breached their duty to act with reasonable care, your injuries were caused by something else. This is why it’s important to seek medical attention right away and get documentation of your injuries and treatment. You should also be careful not to sign any medical releases for the insurer or anyone else without consulting a lawyer. Medical releases allow third parties to get your medical records directly from your healthcare provider. If a medical release provides for unlimited access, the third party will be able to get your entire medical history. This will allow them to dig for information about previous conditions or injuries and use it against you.
The last element of a negligence claim is establishing the damages you suffered as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty. The compensation you seek may include economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and other injury-related expenses (such as having to hire household help, travel to medical appointments, etc). It may also include non-economic damages, such as for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and other negative impacts on your quality of life.
New Jersey also permits punitive damages. However, punitive damages are rare, as they’re intended to punish defendants for especially egregious conduct. They’re also limited to the greater of five times the amount of compensatory damages or $350,000.
Your attorney will help you determine the amount of compensation to seek, then negotiate with the defendant and their insurer to reach a fair settlement. If your case goes to trial, the judge or jury will decide whether or not you’ve sufficiently proved that the defendants were responsible for your injuries, and, if so, the amount of damages. If certain legal requirements are not met during the process, the judge may dismiss the case.
The first step in a dog bite or dog-related injury case is often pursuing a claim through the dog owner’s insurance. After formally engaging a lawyer, your lawyer will ensure a claim is filed with the defendant’s insurance company. Your attorney will then negotiate for a fair settlement. If that’s not possible, the next step is filing a personal injury lawsuit.
If a defendant doesn’t have insurance, you may be able to sue them directly. However, this may only make sense if the owner has sufficient assets that you could recover if you win. An attorney can explain your options and help you devise the best course of action for getting maximum compensation. Below is more information about what to expect when pursuing compensation in a dog bite or dog-related injury case.
Dealing with insurance companies
In many dog bite or dog-related injury cases, the defendant’s homeowners’ insurance policy will be responsible for handling your claim. According to the Insurance Information Institute (“III”), homeowners’ insurance companies pay out hundreds of millions of dollars each year for dog bite and other dog-related injury claims. However, depending on where the incident happened, other insurance policies may cover your injuries instead. Other potential coverage could include a renter’s insurance policy, a general liability policy, or even a business liability policy if the incident happened at a business.
If any insurance company contacts you about your injuries, you should keep in mind that their goal is to protect their own financial interests. This means that you cannot rely on them to explain your rights, give you advice, or offer you the amount of compensation you deserve. Instead, they’ll be searching for information they can use to reduce or even deny your claim. This is true no matter how friendly or sympathetic the insurance adjuster may seem.
Many insurance adjusters deal with claims on a daily basis, so they’re often skilled at getting information they can use against you. Without the right experience or knowing what to look out for, it’s easy to fall into a trap or accidently say something that could damage your claim. Insurers also often use high pressure tactics to try to get you to settle for far less than your claim is actually worth.
To help make sure you don’t make mistakes that harm your ability to get compensation, you should have your attorney handle all communications on your behalf. Your attorney will know what to look for and have the skills to properly negotiate a claim. You shouldn’t give a statement, sign any releases or other forms, or accept any offers until you’ve consulted your attorney. If the insurer refuses to provide an appropriate settlement, your lawyer can also file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Statute of limitations
The statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. In New Jersey, whether you’re pursuing a strict liability claim under the dog bite statute or a negligence claim, your lawsuit must generally be filed within two years of your injury. While two years may seem like plenty of time, it’s important to act quickly for a few reasons.
First, some types of cases have much shorter deadlines. For example, if you’re suing a government entity, you usually only have 90 days from the incident to file a notice of claim. Insurance policies may also have different deadlines.
Second, the strongest evidence in a personal injury case often disappears quickly after the incident. To get video and/or photo evidence of your injuries, the scene of the incident, and other relevant items such as torn or bloodied clothing, it’s critical to act fast. The sooner you act, the more likely you’ll be able to find and speak to witnesses that were present at the scene as well.
Third, identifying the proper defendant and negotiating with the defendant and their insurer can take much longer than you may think. If the owner wasn’t present during the attack, it may take some investigation to identify the owner or any other responsible parties. And once you identify the defendant, their insurer may even intentionally draw out the process. The more time you have to prepare for a lawsuit, the better. By getting started promptly after the incident, you and your lawyer will have as much time as possible to build your case, negotiate a settlement, and, if necessary, file a lawsuit.
If you miss the deadline under the statute of limitations, you’ll no longer be able to seek compensation from the defendant unless a rare exception applies to your case. To make sure you meet all deadlines and build the strongest possible case, you should contact an attorney immediately. However, even if you think you’ve already missed a deadline, it’s worth speaking to a lawyer to confirm whether an exception applies to your case.
Valuing a dog bite or dog-related injury case
The amount of damages you can receive in a dog bite or dog-related injury case depends on the strength of your case as well as your particular injuries and their impact on your life — both now and in the future. This means that you’ll usually have to reach “maximum medical improvement” before you can properly value your case. In other words, you’ll have to recover completely, or as fully as you’re likely to. This will allow you to take into account all past and expected future medical treatment and any other ongoing consequences of your injuries.
An experienced personal injury attorney, with the help of medical experts, will be able to calculate the appropriate amount to seek in your case. If your case goes to trial, the judge or jury will ultimately decide how much to award based on the evidence. Damages can fall into three categories:
Economic damages include compensation for monetary losses relating to your claim. Such losses may include past and future medical expenses, lost wages because you’re unable to work (or limited in the type of work you can do), and other out-of-pocket expenses (for example, transportation to medical appointments, hiring household help, etc).
Non-economic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, and impairment. Spouses, children, and parents of injured patients may also be able to recover damages for loss of companionship and other benefits of a family relationship that were lost due to the victim’s injuries.
These types of damages are more subjective and more difficult to calculate. But generally, when deciding how much to award in non-economic damages, the judge or jury will consider the nature of the injury, its severity, and the impact on one’s life.
Punitive damages are not intended to compensate a victim, but rather to punish the defendant for their conduct. While New Jersey allows punitive damages, they’re only awarded in extreme cases involving egregiously negligent, reckless, or willful conduct. They’re also limited to the greater of five times the amount of compensatory damages, or $350,000. For example, if you had $100,000 in compensatory damages for your economic and non-economic losses, punitive damages would be limited to $500,000 (or five times your compensatory damages). If you had $50,000 in compensatory damages, punitive damages would be limited to $350,000, since that’s greater than five times your compensatory damages, or $250,000.
Pursuing a claim against a friend or relative
Of the millions of dog bites that occur each year, a large majority involve a dog that is owned by a family member or friend of the victim. If a friend or relative’s dog bit or injured you, you may be understandably concerned about how suing them would affect your relationship. But injuries often come with medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses, and getting compensation for those losses is an important part of being able to move on with your life.
The good news is, in this scenario you likely wouldn’t have to sue your friend or family member directly. Instead, their homeowners insurance company, renters’ insurance, or other liability insurance would usually be on the hook for defending the claim and paying out your damages.
If your relative or friend doesn’t have insurance, recovering compensation does become a little more complicated. But either way, before you decide not to pursue a claim, it’s worth getting a free consultation with a personal injury attorney. Your attorney can advise you on all the factors to consider and help you identify the best path forward. If you do decide to pursue a lawsuit, your lawyer can also serve as a buffer between you and the person you’re suing and handle all communications and negotiations on your behalf.
Evidence in a dog bite or dog-related injury case
Gathering as much evidence as possible is important for any kind of lawsuit. In a dog bite or dog-related injury case, common evidence may include:
- Photos and/or video of your injuries, the scene of the incident, and other relevant items, such as torn or bloodied clothing
- Witness testimony
- The dog’s behavioral history (especially helpful in negligence cases or if the owner raises the defense of provocation)
- Medical records documenting the extent of your injuries
- Proof of economic losses such as medical bills, lost wages, other expenses
Experts are another important part of personal injury cases. If issues in your case involve special skill, training, or experience, you may need an expert to express an opinion. For example, medical expert testimony can help link your injuries to the dog attack and explain the impact of your injuries on your life.
When choosing a lawyer, you should look for someone who has access to highly qualified experts. The defendants may have their own experts testifying on their behalf, and having the right experts on your side can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. The more qualified the expert, the more likely the judge or jury will believe them at trial.
It’s also important to engage a lawyer right away. Valuable evidence can disappear quickly after an incident, and as more time passes, witnesses may forget key details. Your attorney will be able to help you collect the right evidence and build the strongest case possible.
When pursuing a dog bite or dog-related injury case, the defendant and their insurer will likely assert defenses that could help them reduce or avoid liability. Below are a few common defenses raised in these cases. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you anticipate and effectively counter these defenses.
New Jersey’s strict liability dog bite statute only applies if you were on public property or lawfully on private property at the time you were bitten. If you were on private property illegally (or “trespassing”), you won’t have a claim under the strict liability dog bite statute. You’re considered legally on private property if they’ve been invited onto the property by the owner (either explicitly or implicitly), or if you’re carrying out a legal duty, such as delivering mail or packages. There may also be other circumstances where you’re considered “legally” on private property.
In Trisuzzi v. Tabatchnik, for example, the plaintiff was on a walk with his family when he passed by privately-owned property. He claimed that a dog on the property came running towards his wife and daughter in “attack mode,” and he intervened to protect them. During the incident, he sustained injuries from the dog, including bites. The plaintiff claimed he never entered the private property and the entire attack occurred in the roadway. The defendant, on the other hand, claimed that the plaintiff entered her private property and the incident occurred there.
At trial, the jury concluded that the plaintiff was not on public property or legally on private property at the time of the incident. However, on appeal, the court ordered a new trial because the trial court had failed to instruct the jury that the plaintiff could legally be on the property even if he wasn’t invited, so long as he was there to protect himself and his family from serious physical harm.
If you were injured while trespassing and therefore can’t pursue a strict liability claim, you might still have a negligence claim. In a negligence lawsuit, trespassing may or may not reduce or bar compensation. As in every negligence case, the court will look at all the circumstances. See Elements of a Dog-Related Injury Claim — Negligence claims.
Provocation and other comparative negligence
Another common defense in a dog bite or dog-related injury case is that the victim provoked the dog or was otherwise partially or completely at fault for the incident. While New Jersey’s strict liability dog bite statute doesn’t specifically provide for a provocation defense, courts do consider whether the plaintiff “unreasonably and voluntarily” exposed themselves to the risk of being bitten, either because they knew the dog was vicious or because the plaintiff provoked the dog. For a negligence claim, simply failing to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances could result in your compensation being reduced or barred. This includes provoking the dog.
Under New Jersey law, there is no bright-line rule (or standard) for what qualifies as provocation. Physical abuse of a dog would likely qualify, but other acts like verbal teasing or accidentally stepping on a tail are less clear. Even when provocation isn’t at issue, the court will look at all circumstances to determine whether the plaintiff shared in the fault for the incident.
In Pingaro v. Rossi, for example, a utility employee went to the defendant’s home to read a meter. On arrival, she received a notice on her hand-held computer that said “bad dog, knock.” She knocked on the defendant’s door, but no one answered. She then rattled the gate to the yard and shouted “gas company,” but again, there was no response. There was a “Beware of Dog” on the gate, but she searched for evidence of a dog or other animals and didn’t see anything. She proceeded to enter the yard and was suddenly attacked by the defendant’s dog.
The trial court issued an order permitting the defendant to argue that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent for trying to read the meter when she was warned a “bad dog” may be present. The appeals court reversed this order, however, holding that despite the warning, there was no evidence that the plaintiff provoked the dog or voluntarily or unreasonably exposed herself to a known risk. On the contrary, she made her presence known and checked the yard for the dog, and only entered when she believed there was no danger present. As a result, the court found there was no basis for submitting the issue of the plaintiff’s negligence to the jury.
If a court does find that you were partially at fault — whether because you provoked the dog or were otherwise negligent — New Jersey applies its “comparative negligence” rule. The comparative negligence rule applies to both strict liability and negligence claims. Under this rule, a victim’s compensation will be lowered in proportion to their percentage of fault, up to 50%. If the victim was 50% or more at fault, they won’t receive any compensation.
As an example, if you had $100,000 in damages, and you’re found 40% at fault, you would only recover $60,000, or 60% of the total damages. If you were found 51% at fault, you would not receive any damages. If you go through trial, the judge or jury will decide how to allocate fault. But even during settlement negotiations, insurance companies will use the comparative negligence rule when evaluating your case.
Assigning fault in a case isn’t an exact science. So although you should be aware of the comparative negligence rule, you should not make any assumptions about how fault will be assigned in your case. Instead, consult an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will be able to analyze all available evidence with the help of experts and make sure fault is properly assigned.
Other common defenses are procedural in nature. For example, the defendant may argue that the statute of limitations has lapsed, or in the case of a government entity, that you missed the deadline for filing a notice of claim. See “Statute of Limitations” above.
Another common defense is that you identified the wrong party as the defendant. (See Elements of a Dog-Related Injury Claim — Identifying responsible parties.) If you sue the wrong party, you can refile a complaint against the right defendant so long as you still have time under the statute of limitations. In the case of government entities, this may present problems since the notice of claim period is relatively short. If you miss a deadline because you sued the wrong party, you may not be able to recover any compensation at all.
The litigation process
If you and your attorney decide to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit, below is an overview of what you can expect. While this may seem intimidating, your attorney will manage the entire process on your behalf and guide you every step of the way.
- Filing and serving a Complaint. The Complaint is a document that lays out the facts supporting each element of your claim, including what happened before, during, and after the attack, the nature of your injuries, and the compensation that you’re seeking. Your attorney will prepare and file the Complaint on your behalf, which will officially begin your lawsuit. A copy of the Complaint must also be delivered (or “served”) to the defendant, along with an official notice of the lawsuit called a “Summons.”
- Defendant’s Answer. Once the defendant receives the Complaint, they’ll have to file an official response called an “Answer.” In their Answer, they’ll admit or deny the allegations in the Complaint. The Answer will also include any defenses and counterclaims.
- Discovery. After the Complaint and Answer are both filed, the discovery process will begin. During discovery, both sides will gather documents, information, and other evidence to build their cases and arguments. They’ll also engage expert witnesses and schedule “depositions” with various parties. Depositions are sworn, out-of-court testimonies in the form of question-and-answer sessions with the attorneys. If requested by the defendant, you may have to undergo an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”) as well. The IME is conducted by a doctor chosen and paid for by the defendant. The purpose is not to provide treatment or care, but to gather information about your injuries and condition that can be used in the lawsuit.
- Motions. Throughout the process, attorneys may make various requests to the court called “motions.” Examples include motions to dismiss (throw out the case because of a legal deficiency), compel discovery (order the other side to respond to a discovery request), or change venue (move the case to a court in another location).
- Trial. If the parties don’t reach a settlement agreement, after discovery the case will proceed to trial. However, a settlement can still be reached any time before the judge or jury makes a decision. During the trial, both attorneys will give opening statements, present all evidence, call witnesses (including experts), and conclude their cases with closing arguments. The judge or jury will then decide who wins the case and the amount of damages, if any (called the “verdict”).
- Appeal. Once the trial is over, the losing side may decide to “appeal” to a higher court. An appeal is basically asking the higher court to review the actions of the trial court and make sure the law was properly applied. By winning an appeal, it may be possible to reverse the decision of the trial court.
The amount of time it takes to go through the litigation process varies from case to case. It will depend on how complicated your case is, how busy the court is, and how willing the parties are to cooperate and negotiate. Many dog bite and dog-related injury cases settle, but if a case goes through a full trial, it can take several years to resolve.
Settlements and mediation
Throughout the entire legal process, your attorney will negotiate with the other side to try to resolve the case out of court. Resolving a case out of court is called a “settlement.” Both sides to a lawsuit usually prefer to settle, because it helps avoid the lengthy, expensive, and uncertain trial process. But defendants and their insurers also want to pay out as little as possible, and sometimes they may not offer a fair settlement. This is especially true early in the process, so it’s best not to rush settlement negotiations. In general, the faster you settle, the lower the settlement amount — sometimes for much less than your case is worth.
You should also never accept a settlement offer until you’ve consulted with an attorney. Once you accept a settlement, you give up your rights to pursue the claim any further. Your attorney will review all evidence and engage the right experts to confirm a fair value for your case. They’ll also conduct settlement negotiations on your behalf. If your attorney can’t reach a fair settlement, they should be prepared and willing to go to trial.
Note that a settlement may be reached through direct negotiations, or the parties may agree to mediation. Mediation is a proceeding where a neutral third-party, called the mediator, helps the plaintiff and defendant reach a settlement. Mediators are often retired judges, attorneys, or other court personnel.
There are no set rules for mediation. Instead, it’s usually guided by the mediator’s own style and method. The mediator will listen to both sides and make sure everyone gets a chance to tell their story and ask questions. The idea is that this process will help both sides come to an understanding and fair compromise. Of course, sometimes that isn’t possible. If you can’t reach a compromise through mediation, you can still proceed with your case in court.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog, you likely have a lot of questions about your case. Below are answers to some common questions we receive about dog bite or dog-related injury claims in New Jersey. But keep in mind that every case is different. If you’d like to discuss the specifics of your case, you should contact a New Jersey personal injury attorney.
Whether you have a viable claim is usually difficult to determine without consulting an attorney. First, the attorney will have to determine whether the deadline under the statute of limitations has passed. If not, they’ll then review any available evidence to figure out whether the facts seem to support a claim.
If it appears you have a dog bite or dog-related injury claim and you and the attorney decide to move forward, your attorney will conduct further investigations and begin negotiations. During this process, additional evidence may come out that affects the strength of your claim. If this happens, your attorney will be able to advise you on the best course of action. See Elements of a Dog-Related Injury Claim for more information about the requirements for a successful claim.
Every case is valued differently. There is no “standard” amount of compensation for a dog bite or any other dog-related injury. Instead, your attorney will work with medical experts to determine how much to seek based on the circumstances of the incident and your particular injuries. Possible damages may include:
-economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses;
-non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, disfigurement, or disability; and
-punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was especially egregious.
See Pursuing Compensation — Valuing a dog bite or dog-related injury case for more information.
It’s standard for personal injury attorneys to offer an initial consultation free of charge and take cases on a contingency basis. This means that you won’t have to pay them up front. Instead, their attorneys’ fees will only come out of any money they win for you in a verdict or settlement.
Personal injury attorneys usually advance litigation expenses as well, such as fees for depositions, copying records, and engaging experts. These expenses will also be reimbursed from any verdict or settlement.
To avoid any unpleasant surprises, when consulting with a lawyer you should ask about their fee structure. You should also carefully read your engagement letter, which will outline how all fees and expenses will be handled.
In New Jersey, the statute of limitations generally only gives you two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. This deadline may only be extended in very limited circumstances. Note that this is the deadline for starting a lawsuit. It maybe resolved much later.
Some types of lawsuits also have much shorter deadlines. For example, if you’re suing a government entity, you’ll generally have to file a notice of claim within 90 days of the incident. Insurance claims may also have different deadlines.
If you miss a deadline, you may no longer be able to pursue a claim to recover compensation from the defendant. But even if you think you already missed a deadline, it’s worth consulting with an attorney. The attorney will confirm whether any exceptions apply to your case.
It’s possible. Both sides in a lawsuit usually prefer to settle out of court, as going through the trial process can involve a lot of time, money, and uncertainty. And many dog bite cases do settle at some point during the process. However, if the dog’s owner or their insurance company refuses to pay a fair settlement, it may be necessary to go to trial.
If that happens, you’ll have to appear in court. Throughout the litigation process, you’ll also have to attend other proceedings, such as negotiations, depositions, and medical examinations. If you do have to go to court and make other appearances, your attorney will guide you through the entire process.
It’s difficult to predict how long it will take to resolve any lawsuit. If a case is particularly strong, it may settle in a matter of months. Other cases can take years, especially if they go all the way through trial.
The first step is consulting with an attorney. Your attorney will review all available evidence and decide whether they can take on your case. If you both decide to proceed, your attorney will then investigate further and start to prepare your case. They’ll also begin negotiations with the defendant and their insurer.
If the defendant and their insurer won’t agree to a fair settlement, your attorney may proceed with a lawsuit. The attorneys will continue to negotiate, and there will be a period of discovery and motions. If the parties still don’t reach a settlement during this time, the case will ultimately go to trial.
The lawsuit process can take a lot of time. How long your case takes will depend on the complexity of the case, the strength of the evidence, and how busy the court is. The cooperation of the defendant, their insurer, and other parties involved in the case will also affect the timeline.
While not every case will be picked up by the media, it is possible. Lawsuit records will generally become part of the public record. That includes your court filings and the rulings in the case.
If you settle out of court, you may be able to keep many sensitive details and the settlement amount out of the public record. Your attorneys can also draft the settlement agreement in a way that obligates the parties to keep the details confidential.
If your loved one died as the result of a dog attack, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away to evaluate your case. You may be able to bring a wrongful death action and pursue damages for funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and other losses. While money can’t truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, it can provide a sense of justice and help provide financial stability for those left behind.
The sooner you contact a lawyer, the better. As more time passes, the more difficult it becomes to gather the right evidence. Preparing a case will also require a thorough investigation, and like other types of cases, there are strict legal deadlines for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you have other questions about a dog bite or dog-related injury case, you should contact a lawyer right away. As noted above, there are time limits for filing a claim, and the strongest evidence may disappear over time. If you wait too long, it may be too late to pursue compensation.
At Rosenblum Law, we understand how painful and frightening a dog attack can be and the impact dog-related injuries can have on your life. If you’ve been a victim of a dog attack, we’ll thoroughly evaluate your situation and determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances. If we’re able to take on your case, we’ll guide you through the insurance and legal processes, engage the right experts, and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation.
For a free consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us through our website at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about helping all our clients get the compensation they’re owed — and we won’t take a fee unless we win a settlement or verdict for you.