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Dog bite laws create controversy

For most New Jersey dog owners, it’s hard to believe that your household pet could ever hurt someone. It is even more difficult to imagine your friend and trusted companion causing a serious injury and facing a lawsuit and other consequences. Yet many dog owners are faced with this reality when their pet is startled or unexpectedly let loose in public.

In New Jersey and many other states, dog owners have a duty to prevent their pet from harming another person. Except in the event that someone is trespassing on private property, dog owners are liable for the costs and harm caused by an injury from a dog bite.

There are some states around the country that have been increasing penalties for dog owners after an attack or injury. A recent Supreme Court decision in Maryland has created controversy over the classification of pitbull breed dogs as “inherently dangerous.” The large, muscular dogs do certainly have a capacity to cause serious injury, but many animal welfare groups say that with proper care and training, these dogs are perfectly safe to own.

On the other hand, a number of serious injuries and even fatalities caused by dog attacks have led some communities to adopt strict liability laws, which eliminate the need for a victim to prove that the owner was negligent at the time of the attack. The Maryland ruling is the first example of a statewide adoption of that policy. The results of this decision could have effects on policymaking in other states, depending on whether or not it seems to be reducing the number of dog bite injuries.

Source: CBS This Morning, “Pit bull ruling outrages rescue groups, owners,” Whit Johnson, May 3, 2012

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