Pursuing a Dog Bite Lawsuit in New Jersey

When  Mr. DeRobertis sued Mr. Randazzo because his five-year-old son was bitten on the head by Mr. Randazzo’s German Shepherd, the presiding judge said: “I have nothing against dogs, but dogs bite and children roam.” While our furry friends are undeniably beloved, unfortunately, not all dogs are harmless and their bites can leave a  victim with serious and expensive injuries. Fortunately, if you’ve been a victim of a dog bite, the law provides a path to relief for you and: with the help of a NJ personal injury attorney, you can pursue a dog bite lawsuit to recover the compensation you are owed.

New Jersey’s “One Bite Law”

In the State of New Jersey, there are no “free bites.” Under New Jersey’s dog bite law, once a dog bites, its owner can be held liable, regardless of any precautions they may have taken. The legal term for this is “strict liability.” To hold someone liable for a dog bite, you must prove three things:

  1. Whoever you are suing is the owner of the dog that bit you
  2. The dog bit you
  3. The dog bit you while you were on public property or lawfully on private property

If you are able to prove each of these elements, you can recover damages relating to all injuries resulting from the dog attack. Notice that we said injuries from the attack rather than just injuries from the bite. This distinction is key. In Gross v. Dunham, the court determined that New Jersey’s dog bite law should allow victims to be compensated for all injuries resulting from a dog attack as long as they were bitten during that attack. In this case, the victim was awarded compensation not only for the bite she received to her leg, but for her back injury that resulted from the dog attack. Additionally, damages can include things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Attacked But Not Bitten

New Jersey’s dog bite law covers victims who have been bitten by a dog…but what if you were attacked by a dog but not bitten? In this case, you can still recover compensation by making either a “common law strict liability claim” or a “negligence claim.” 

Common Law Strict Liability

In a New Jersey case, Jannuzzelli v. Wilkens, a jury decided that the Jannuzzelli’s, whose three-and-a-half-year-old daughter had been severely injured by the Wilkens’ dog, should not get compensation because the young girl had not been attacked, not bitten, meaning the “one bite law” did not apply. Fortunately for the Jannuzzelli’s, on appeal, the court rejected the jury’s finding. They held that when someone is attacked by a dog but not bitten, they can recover under a claim of “common law strict liability.” Common law strict liability provides that a dog owner whose dog attacks someone can be held liable if they knew or should have known of their dog’s “vicious propensities.” The rule is designed to put a price on owning a “vicious dog”: should it attack someone, its owner is strictly liable. 

What is a “vicious dog?” In this context, a “vicious dog” is a dog that has a history of aggressive behavior. This can include things like having previously attacked someone or having a reputation for snapping at or trying to attack others. In the Jannuzzellis’s case, the Wilkens’s dog was considered vicious because it had a history of playfully jumping up on people to get them to pet him and had previously injured a few small children this way. So, if you were attacked but not bitten by a dog, the dog that attacked you was vicious, and the owner knew their dog was vicious, you can still hold the owner strictly liable for your injuries.

Negligence 

Common law strict liability deals with those who knowingly keep vicious dogs that wind up attacking someone,but this is just one possible scenario. Sometimes a vicious dog attacks, but its owner doesn’t actually know their dog is vicious. Other times a non-vicious dog may attack. In these instances, should dog owners suddenly be let off the hook because they didn’t know it was coming? The law doesn’t seem to think so. In these cases, you may be able to hold the attacking dog’s owner liable through a “negligence claim.”

Negligence is a way for the law to deal with carelessness. Generally, when people are careless, it is not good for society. If your neighbor carelessly leaves a candle burning when they go on vacation, their house could catch on fire. That fire could then easily spread to your home, leaving you with enormous damage, all because someone else was not careful. It’s hardly fair for you to pay the price for someone else’s carelessness. 

The law’s solution to these types of situations, where one’s carelessness causes another to be injured, is otherwise known as a negligence claim. Here’s how it works :By law, we owe a duty to take reasonable care in our actions to avoid harming others around us. The law enforces this duty by holding us financially responsible if we are careless and our actions cause another to be injured. This is negligence in a nutshell.

So, when you are attacked by a dog but not bitten as a result of its owner’s carelessness, you may be able to recover compensation by making a negligence claim. You will claim that the dog’s owner should be held liable for your injuries because their carelessness led to their dog attacking you. Carelessness can take many forms. Perhaps the owner let their dog off of its leash in a public park that requires dogs to be leashed at all times. Or maybe the owner absentmindedly lost control of their dog’s leash while making their way through a crowded playground. In any case, it will be up to the court to decide whether the dog owner was not reasonably careful under the circumstances.

Accounting for the Victim’s Blame: Comparative Fault

While it is true that dogs attack, it is also true that the dogs and their owners are not always entirely to blame. Some dog bites or attacks happen because the victim provoked the dog intentionally, such as by taunting or teasing it. Other dog bites occur because the victim is simply careless, such as by trying to separate two dogs attacking each other or by accidentally stepping on a dog’s tail, causing it to lash out in pain. When you, the victim of a dog bite, carry some blame for causing the incident, the court can factor in your blame when they decide your case. This is known as comparative fault. 

There are two main ways a dog owner can benefit from proving you were somewhat at fault. First, your fault can act as the dog owner’s defense, meaning a way to show the court the dog owner should not be held liable at all. For example, even under New Jersey’s strict one bite rule, a dog owner can be let off the hook if the injured victim intentionally provoked the dog. Second, the dog owner can use your fault to reduce how much they must compensate you if they are found liable. This is because if you, the victim, are somewhat to blame, the court can assign you a percentage of fault. This will reduce the amount the dog owner must pay you by this percentage. However, to recover any compensation, you will have to be less than 50% to blame. New Jersey follows a “modified comparative fault model,” which means one can only recover compensation if they are less than 50% to blame for the accident in question. For example, if it’s found that you were 25% responsible for the dog attack incident and the court awards you $100,000, you will only receive $75,000. 

Dangerous Dogs

In researching dog bite lawsuits, you may come across a discussion of New Jersey’s “dangerous dogs” law. Though it definitely sounds important to this topic, it’s actually not all that relevant. The “dangerous dogs” law establishes New Jersey’s civil process for dealing with dogs that bite or attack people. 

Usually, an animal control officer will report a dog that has attacked someone, and a case will be opened in civil court to determine what should be done with that dog. In most cases, the dog’s owner, if it has one, is ordered to take certain precautions, like keeping their dog leashed at all times or using a muzzle. This process only becomes relevant to your dog bite lawsuit if the dog that bit or attacked you was previously determined in civil court to be a “dangerous dog.” If this is the case, then your attorney might use this information to help prove your claim.

Proving Your Claim

To be compensated for your injuries, you will need to prove your claim in a court of law. What you need to prove will depend on which cause of action best fits the facts of your case. Let’s briefly review the elements of each type of claim:

One-bite Law

If you are suing under New Jersey’s one-bite law, you must prove all of the following:

  1. Whoever you are suing is the owner of the dog that bit you
  2. The dog bit you
  3. You were on public property or lawfully on private property when the dog bit you

Common Law Strict Liability

If you are suing under common law strict liability, you must prove all of the following:

  1. Whoever you are suing is the owner or keeper of the dog that attacked you
  2. The dog attacked you
  3. Whoever you are suing knew or should have known that their dog had vicious propensities

Common Law Negligence

If you are suing under common law negligence, you must prove all of the following:

  1. Whoever you are suing is the owner or keeper of the dog that attacked you
  2. The dog attacked you
  3. Whoever you are suing was careless in failing to prevent the attack

Proving any one of these claims will require strong evidence gathered in a thorough and comprehensive investigation. This is why it is crucial to hire an experienced dog bite attorney like Rosenblum Law to help you gather all the evidence you may need to win your case. 

When handling dog bite case, we rely on different types of evidence, such as:

  • Photo evidence
  • Expert witness testimony (medical professionals; dog-bite experts)
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Deposition testimony (a deposition is an official out-of-court statement made under oath)
  • Public records

Once we have gathered enough convincing evidence, our expert attorneys persuade the court by showing how the evidence proves each element of our client’s claim.

Compensation Without a Trial: Pre-trial Settlements

The vast majority of personal injury cases never see a courtroom. They are instead resolved in what is known as a “pre-trial settlement.” A settlement is when the parties to a dispute negotiate a deal where the accused wrongdoer agrees to pay the injured claimant, and in exchange, the injured claimant agrees to drop the claim. 

Parties agree to settle because going to trialis expensive and time-consuming. If the accused wrongdoer thinks they will probably lose in court, it becomes cheaper for them to pay the claimant without having to go through the ordeal of a trial. A settlement is an ideal outcome for you, the claimant, as long as the settlement amount is fair. 

Though the majority of claims do end up settling, you should be aware that getting to this point is not easy. To achieve a just settlement, you will need the expertise of an attorney for several important reasons:

  1. They can build a claim strong enough to convince the accused wrongdoer that they will probably lose in court.
  2. They can use their legal knowledge and experience with past cases to determine what would be a fair amount of compensation in your case.
  3. They can maximize the amount of compensation you receive through expert negotiation.

How Serious Is a Dog Bite?

Dog bites can cause serious injuries, especially if they go untreated. The severity of your injuries can depend on multiple factors:

  • Whether the dog that attacked you was vaccinated
  • Depth of the bite
  • Amount of bleeding
  • Your overall health

A bad bite can cause alarming blood loss as well as damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones. In these cases, the need to see a doctor right away should be obvious. But even for more mild bites, you should still see a doctor as soon as possible. Almost all dog bites carry a serious risk of infection, which can cause you health issues if not treated in time. 

Dog attacks where you’re not bitten are also capable of inflicting great harm, particularly when a larger dog is involved. Victims of these attacks can be left with injuries of varying degrees, including:

  • Bruising
  • Scratches
  • Sprains
  • Torn ligaments
  • Broken bones
  • Internal bleeding

Some of these injuries can easily result in the need for surgery, an extended hospital stay, and steep medical bills. The bottom line: after a dog bite or attack, you should first seek medical care promptly. Then, once you are cared for medically, you should consult an experienced attorney like at Rosenblum Law, so you can build a strong case for compensation.

Will You Need an Attorney?

To recover the compensation you deserve, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney. To make a successful claim for compensation, you will need to be able to

  • thoroughly investigate your claim
  • understand the legal rules at play
  • navigate your claim through a complex maze of procedural rules
  • persuade the court at trial

All four of these tasks are relatively straightforward for an attorney, who has had formal legal training and past experience handling personal injury cases. Non-lawyers, on the other hand, predictably struggle with these crucial tasks, as they lack the necessary resources, knowledge, and experience. Once you decide to pursue a lawsuit, you should keep in mind that you don’t ordinarily get multiple bites at the apple: if you mess up your claim the first time, you probably won’t get another try. To give yourself the best shot at recovering compensation, you should entrust your claim to an experienced legal professional.

Dog Bite Statistics

Dog bites happen all too frequently. Each year, the United States sees a staggering 4.5 million dog bites. One of the most common medical risks is infection, with almost one out every five dog bites resulting in an infection. Of course, other, more serious injuries can and do unfortunately occur. These injuries are not just dangerous; they are also very expensive. The average cost of a dog-bite-related hospital stay is a whopping $18,200. Additionally, it is estimated that in the United States, dog bites result in over $1 billion dollars in monetary losses annually.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What if you were bitten at a dog park?

In general, there is no legal difference when you are bitten at a dog park versus any other public property. However, it can affect how the court views the facts of your case. For example, if you claim the owner of the dog that bit you was negligent, the fact that you were in a dog park might affect what it meant for the owner to be reasonably careful under the circumstances. It might be reasonable in a dog park to leave a dog off leash, for instance. You should discuss all the relevant facts of your case with an attorney, who can assess the strength of your claim.

Can you recover compensation if you were bitten on the dog’s owner’s property?

It depends. If you are suing under the one bite law, you must have been on the offending dog’s owner’s property lawfully. If you were trespassing, then you cannot recover compensation. Things are slightly different when you are not suing under the one bite law. If you are suing under common law strict liability or common law negligence, you can sue if you were on the property lawfully. However, in some cases, you might even be able to recover compensation if you were on the property unlawfully; property owners still owe a limited duty to trespassers. It will all depend on how the facts of your case square with the law.

What if you were not lawfully on the property where you were bitten?

Under New Jersey’s one-bite law, you can successfully sue only if you were on public property or lawfully on private property; you cannot recover if you were trespassing when you were bitten. With a common law strict liability claim and a common law negligence claim, things become more tricky. Under some circumstances, you may be able to recover compensation even if you were trespassing when you were bitten, meaning you were on the dog’s owner’s property unlawfully. An attorney will need to examine the facts of your case to determine whether you have a valid claim.

What if you were bitten while you were working?

When you are bitten by a dog while you are working, you may be entitled first to worker’s compensation benefits. This is when your job compensates you after you are injured on the job. Then, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may or may not be entitled to sue the dog’s owner. These cases get tricky, so you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Can you sue someone who doesn’t own the dog that bit you?

Yes. In general, the owner of a dog will be liable if that dog bites or attacks someone. However, it is possible for a keeper of the dog (such as a dog walker or dog sitter) to be responsible under some circumstances, such as when the keeper is negligent. Your attorney will examine all the relevant facts and determine who best to sue, the owner, the keeper, or someone else.

Can you recover through an insurance claim?

Yes. Many homeowners and renter’s insurance policies provide coverage for dog bites. If you are bitten at a dog’s owner’s residence, you may be able to make an insurance claim through such a policy.

How long after a dog bite can you sue?

In New Jersey, you have two years from the date you were bitten to initiate a lawsuit.

Does it matter what breed of dog bit you?

No. In general, a court does not place any legal significance on the breed of the dog. A dog won’t be legally considered vicious or dangerous simply because of its breed.

Who Should You Contact?

Like the judge who presided over poor Mr. DeRobertis’ dog bite trial, we have nothing against dogs, but we acknowledge that dogs do attack from time to time. Unfortunately, when it does occur, the results can be brutal physically, mentally, and financially. Fortunately, the law makes getting compensated for your injuries very achievable with the help of a skilled personal injury attorney, such as those at Rosenblum Law. For decades now, we have expertly advocated for dog bite victims, helping them achieve the compensation they deserve. Our virtually limitless resources, knowledge of New Jersey law, and unmatched trial skills make us the very best choice for your dog bite claim. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources

How Lawsuits Work

More on Settlements

More on Strict Liability

More on Negligence

What To Do After a Dog Bite

Call Us
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap