New Jersey Dog Bite Claims: How to Prove Owner Negligence
While dogs are often lovingly referred to as ‘man’s best friend’, there are instances when they can cause harm. In New Jersey, a significant number of personal injury cases arise from dog bites. The aftermath of a dog bite can be distressing, both physically and emotionally. But when does a bite lead to a legal claim, and how can you prove owner negligence? Drazin & Warshaw is here to break down the intricacies of New Jersey dog bite claims and guide you through the process.
Understanding New Jersey’s Dog Bite Law
In New Jersey, dog bite cases operate under specific statutes and principles that aim to protect the rights of victims while ensuring that pet owners take responsibility for their pets’ behavior. If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog in New Jersey, it’s crucial to understand the state’s dog bite law to navigate any legal claims effectively.
Strict Liability Statute
New Jersey follows a “strict liability” approach when it comes to dog bites. In essence:
- The dog owner is liable for bite injuries caused by their dog, irrespective of the dog’s past behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its viciousness.
- This means even if the dog has never shown signs of aggression or bitten anyone before, the owner can still be held responsible for the dog’s actions.
Conditions for Liability
For the strict liability rule to apply, the victim must satisfy two conditions:
- The bite must have occurred in a public place OR
- The victim was lawfully in a private place (including the property of the dog owner) when the bite happened. This means that the person wasn’t trespassing or committing another civil wrong.
Exceptions and Defenses
While New Jersey’s law is quite stringent, certain defenses can be invoked by dog owners:
- Trespassing: If the victim was unlawfully on the private property of the dog owner, the strict liability might not apply.
- Provocation: If it’s proven that the victim provoked the dog, whether intentionally or not, it can influence the liability determination.
Other Injuries Caused by Dogs
The strict liability statute specifically applies to dog bite injuries. For other injuries caused by a dog, such as being knocked over or scratched, the victim would generally need to prove negligence on the part of the owner. This means showing that the owner failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or prevent the injury.
It’s also essential to be aware of local municipal regulations and ordinances regarding dogs. Some municipalities might have leash laws or specific requirements for certain breeds. Violation of these rules can further strengthen a victim’s claim.
Proving Owner Negligence: A Step-by-Step Guide
Even with the strict liability statute, demonstrating owner negligence can strengthen your claim, especially if the incident involves circumstances beyond a bite or occurs outside New Jersey.
Here’s how to build a robust case:
Gather Evidence at the Scene
- Photographs: Take clear pictures of the injuries, the dog, the location, and anything that may suggest negligence (e.g., an unrestrained dog in a public park).
- Witness Statements: Gather accounts from anyone who witnessed the incident. Their testimonies can provide valuable insights into the dog’s behavior and the owner’s actions (or lack thereof).
Check for Previous Incidents
- While New Jersey doesn’t require knowledge of prior aggressiveness for a bite claim, knowing a dog’s history can help establish a pattern of negligence.
- Speak to neighbors or community members. They might have knowledge of previous aggressive incidents involving the same dog.
Determine Violations of Local Ordinances
- Many municipalities have specific rules regarding leashing, muzzling, or restraining certain breeds or sizes of dogs. If the owner violated these ordinances at the time of the bite, it could serve as evidence of negligence.
Seek Medical Treatment
- Even if the injury seems minor, get medical attention. A medical record not only ensures your well-being but also serves as evidence of the severity of the injury.
- Some injuries, especially infections, may manifest symptoms later. It’s crucial to have documentation linking these complications to the dog bite.
Document Financial and Emotional Impacts
- Keep a detailed account of medical bills, therapy sessions, missed work days, and other financial burdens resulting from the bite.
- Journaling your emotional journey post-incident can also help illustrate the psychological impacts.
Engage with Expert Witnesses
- In some cases, it might be beneficial to involve a canine behavior expert. They can provide insights into the dog’s breed, behavior, and potential triggers, supporting the claim of owner negligence.
Consult with Legal Experts
- Engaging with law firms that specialize in personal injury claims, like Drazin & Warshaw, ensures your case is handled with the necessary expertise. An experienced attorney can guide you through the intricacies of New Jersey’s laws, helping establish owner negligence conclusively.
Why Proving Owner Negligence Matters
While the strict liability statute in New Jersey can simplify dog bite claims, proving owner negligence still holds significant importance. Here’s why:
Situations Beyond Strict Liability
- The strict liability statute specifically addresses dog bites. But dogs can cause harm in other ways too — a large dog might knock a person over, causing injury, or a dog might chase someone into traffic, leading to an accident. In such scenarios that aren’t straightforward bites, victims need to prove owner negligence to establish liability.
- New Jersey operates under the comparative negligence doctrine in personal injury cases. If a dog owner can prove that the injured party’s negligence contributed to the incident (e.g., provoking the dog), the compensation might be reduced by the percentage of the victim’s fault. By demonstrating owner negligence, victims can ensure they receive full compensation.
Municipal Ordinance Violations
- Local municipalities may have additional regulations concerning pet ownership, like leash laws or confinement rules. If a dog owner violates these regulations, it strengthens the case for negligence. Such violations can be compelling evidence that the owner failed in their duty to control or restrain their dog.
- In some situations, if owner negligence is particularly egregious, the court may award punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. By establishing a clear case of negligence, victims might be eligible for these additional damages.
Cases with Multiple Parties Involved
- There might be situations where multiple parties share responsibility for an injury. For example, suppose a landlord knew of a tenant’s aggressive dog but didn’t take measures to ensure the safety of other tenants or visitors. In that case, they might share liability. Proving negligence can help allocate responsibility appropriately among all negligent parties.
Prevention and Accountability
- On a broader scale, holding dog owners accountable for negligence promotes responsible pet ownership. By understanding the potential legal repercussions of negligent behavior, dog owners may be more inclined to take necessary precautions, which can reduce the number of future incidents.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer at Drazin & Warshaw for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today
Dog bites, while unfortunate, are a reality many face. In the aftermath of such incidents, knowing your rights and the legal avenues available is empowering. While New Jersey offers protections to victims through its strict liability stance, understanding how to prove owner negligence can significantly bolster your claim.
At Drazin & Warshaw, we believe in championing the rights of personal injury victims. With our wealth of experience and commitment to justice, we stand ready to assist you in navigating the complexities of dog bite claims in New Jersey. Whether it’s gathering evidence, consulting experts, or representing you in court, we’re with you every step of the way.