Being attacked by a dog can be unexpected and painful. Aside from the physical damages, you may have to consider medical bills, pain, anxiety, and lost wages. Fortunately, financial compensation is available and can help you recover and move on. The value of your case depends on who is at fault, as well as the extent of your physical and mental injuries and financial losses. Though the average dog bite settlement is roughly $50,000 in New Jersey, some people injured by dog bites have been awarded significantly higher amounts.
Dog Bite Laws in New Jersey
Dog bites in New Jersey are covered by a “strict liability” statute (section 4:19-16), which establishes that the victim must only prove that they were bitten by the dog owned by the person they have sued, while lawfully on private or public property.
Additionally, even if the dog’s owner took reasonable care to restrain the dog, they are still held liable, regardless of whether it was the dog’s first bite or not. See our article on pursuing dog bite lawsuits in New Jersey.
Factors that Affect Settlement Amounts
The value of your dog bite case depends on who is found responsible, as well as the bite’s current and future impact on your life. With the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer and a medical expert they work with, you can get an appropriate estimate of the value of your case. If your case goes to trial, a judge and jury will make the final decision based on the following factors:
Dogs and their owners are not always completely to blame when a dog attacks someone. Sometimes the victim provoked the dog intentionally, and other times the victim’s careless actions caused the dog to lash out. This concept of comparative fault can play a role in the court’s decision. In New Jersey, if the victim is found to be entirely at fault, the dog owner will generally not be held liable. Even if the victim is found to be only partly at fault, the dog owner can use that to reduce the amount they must pay in compensation. To recover any compensation, the victim must be found less than 50% at fault for the incident.
Any monetary losses incurred as a result of the bite can be included in the victim’s compensation. These financial losses include past and future medical expenses, any lost wages as a result of hospital stays or time spent recovering, and other related expenses like transportation to medical appointments or hiring household help during recovery.
Victims of dog bites suffer harm that goes beyond financial losses and the law recognizes this. Non-economic damages like pain, disfigurement, and disability can all be included in the victim’s compensation.
In extreme cases of negligence or willful misconduct, New Jersey law allows for punitive charges to punish the dog owner rather than compensate the victim. These kinds of payments are limited to greater than five times the victim’s compensatory damages, or $350,000.
Steps to Take After a Dog Bite
As with any incident that causes injuries, it’s important to take certain steps immediately following it. That’s because what you do could help – or hurt – a case if you need to pursue compensation. Situations involving dogs are no different.
Get Medical Attention
In cases of severe injury, the first step is to seek medical care. Contact emergency services if you have deep cuts, broken bones, heavy bleeding, or any other life-threatening condition. Additionally, if you experience any signs of infection such as a fever, see a physician immediately. If you have any kind of open cut, it’s a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible, to take the steps necessary to prevent diseases like rabies and other infections.
Note that if you don’t seek immediate medical attention, insurance companies and defendants will likely try to argue that your injuries weren’t that severe, which could hurt your case. Moreover, you should make sure to diligently follow your doctor’s instructions and properly care for your injuries. If your injuries end up worse than they would have because you failed to follow instructions, your compensation may be affected. Make sure to keep records of all of your medical expenses related to your injuries.
Identify the Owner: If the owner is present, write down their name and contact details, and try to get information about the dog and whether its vaccinations are current. Keep in mind that it’s best to limit your interactions with the owner and avoid saying anything that could be used against you if you end up pursuing a claim. In New Jersey, identifying the owner is crucial to getting compensated. If the owner is not present during the incident and you are having trouble identifying them, the police or local animal control may be able to help you.
Get Contact Information from any Witnesses: If you need to file a claim, it will be helpful to have the ability to reach any bystanders who witnessed the attack. Try to get their contact information, and remember not to discuss the details of the attack or admit fault in any way.
Gather Visual Evidence: Compile visual evidence, including photos of your injuries and subsequent scarring, images or videos depicting the scene of the attack, and any other pertinent items like blood-stained or torn clothing. This evidence will help you build a strong case and convince the court to award you the compensation you deserve.
Write Down Your Account of the Events: Recording exactly what happened while it is still fresh in your mind can go a long way toward correctly explaining the incident to your lawyer or even the court. Be sure to include as many details as you remember; sometimes seemingly insignificant details make the largest impact on your case. You may also want to consider keeping a journal to document your physical and mental health following the attack, as this, too, can be used to prove how your injuries have impacted your life.
Report the Incident
If you are bitten by a dog, you should promptly report the incident to the local animal control office and local police. Even if you have the owner’s contact information, the official report can serve as important evidence in your case. Additionally, reporting the attack helps authorities to keep track of dangerous dogs and may help prevent future attacks.
Contact a Lawyer
Speaking to an attorney as soon as possible will help you keep on top of important deadlines and understand your legal options throughout the process. If your lawyer does advise you to take your claim to court, you will need to do so within two years of the incident, just as you would for any other personal injury lawsuit (N.J. Stat. Ann § 2A:14-2).
Examples of Dog Bite Settlements in New Jersey
S.H. v. Guido
- A girl suffered dog bite injuries – which needed 100 stitches in her mouth and face – when she was sitting in the home of defendants and had attempted to pick up her phone from the floor
- She sued the dog owners for failing to properly supervise their dog because despite knowing of the danger posed by the dog, it was left under the watch of two minors when the accident had occurred
- The parties agreed to settle for $150,000
Muglia v. Virone
- A woman was visiting the defendant when she suffered a dog bite on the middle finger of her right hand which required stitches and resulted in lasting injuries, as well as emotional trauma
- She claimed she was attacked viciously and without provocation
- The jury agreed and awarded her $550,000 in compensation for pain and suffering
Emma v. May
- The plaintiff claimed he suffered dog bite injuries with residual scarring after he was attacked by his neighbor’s dog while he walked out of his front door to his truck on the street
- He contended that the dog owner failed to take proper care of his dog, causing a dangerous condition to exist due to his negligent behavior
- The jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages
Kassick v Roberts
- While delivering a package to defendants’ home, a UPS delivery man was attacked by their two dogs and sustained torn cartilage which required arthroscopic surgery, as well as synovitis with chronic pain which would require at least two knee replacement surgeries in his lifetime, according to a medical expert
- He contended that the defendants failed to adequately control and supervise their dogs
- The jury awarded $600,000 in non-economic damages, which the judge reduced to $510,000
A.R. v. Torres
- A minor sustained partial loss of his right ear and dog bite wounds to his arm, mouth, and forehead while his sister claimed emotional distress due to witnessing the attack while they were on defendants’ property
- Their mom sued the defendants for negligence and medical expenses
- The parties reached two settlements, $950,000 for the boy who was bit by the dog and $50,000 for the sister who had suffered emotional trauma
The Path to Compensation
Most personal injury cases are resolved in a “pre-trial settlement.” It is beneficial to both parties to agree to a deal without bringing the matter to court because lawsuits can be costly and time-consuming. However, if you are not able to negotiate a just settlement, it may be worth considering taking your claim to court. Thinking about the following factors will help you decide whether you should pursue a lawsuit:
Your Likelihood of Winning the Case
Speak to your lawyer about the facts of your case. If they are confident you have a strong case and you are not able to negotiate for a reasonable offer, you can move forward with a lawsuit.
The Compensation You Deserve
Again, talking to a lawyer is crucial for this step. They can use their legal knowledge and experience to determine a fair amount for your case. If the dog owner or their insurer is offering a significantly lower amount than what you and your lawyer think you deserve, you can proceed with a lawsuit.
How Urgently You Need the Compensation
Unfortunately, sometimes variables outside of your control must affect your decision. To secure your compensation as quickly as possible, you may need to agree to an offer. Proceeding to court could make the case drag on, especially if the other side continues to put up a fight. On the other hand, once you have both agreed to a number, it could take mere days until you get the compensation. Work with your lawyer to determine the best strategy, as settling too early can leave money on the table.
How We Can Help
It is probably clear by now that pursuing a settlement or lawsuit on your own isn’t easy. At Rosenblum Law, we understand the impact of dog attacks on your life. We evaluate your situation thoroughly, determine the best course of action, and guide you through the process to achieve maximum compensation. Specifically, we will:
- Conduct a thorough investigation of your case to identify the parties legally responsible for the incident
- Construct a compelling claim that demonstrates to the accused wrongdoer their likely loss in court
- Expertly negotiate with both the owner and/or their insurer and, if needed, the court so you receive the maximum compensation possible
- Take charge of all communications with third parties on your behalf, and keep you informed
- Navigate intricate court procedures and fulfill all necessary legal requirements.
As per the Insurance Information Institute, in 2022, New Jersey ranked 9th in the country for the estimated number of dog bite claims, with an average payout of $74,837 per claim. Many homeowner and renter policies provide coverage for dog bites that occur at their residences. Some pet owners also own pet liability insurance, which is more likely to cover their dog if it is known to be a more aggressive breed.
Immediate family members of someone injured may be able to recover damages for the loss of companionship and other family benefits lost as a result of the attack. If a loved one died because of a dog attack, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim and pursue damages for funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and lost income and benefits. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to gather the right evidence and file the lawsuit before the deadline. Money can never truly compensate for your loss, but it can provide some sense of justice and financial stability.
It is probably clear by now that pursuing a settlement or lawsuit on your own isn’t easy. Without the experience and legal expertise of a lawyer, it’s easy to make mistakes that could cost you valuable compensation. Working with the right lawyer will provide you with the guidance you need to confidently pursue the compensation you deserve.