Dog Bites: Whose Fault Is It?

Dog Bites

Dogs can make great pets. But dogs can also bite people and cause serious injuries and, in some cases, even death. It has been estimated that nearly 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs each year. Of those, nearly 350,000 require treatment in an emergency room. Thousands of others require in-patient care, with the average hospital stay being estimated at 3.6 days.

In addition to these injuries, dog bite attacks also cause death. In 1997 and 1998, for example, 27 people died as a result of dog bite attacks in the United States. From 1978 through 1996, more than 300 people died as a result of dog bite attacks; many of those attacks occurred in New Jersey. Sadly, most of the victims of fatal dog bite attacks are children.

There are a variety of reasons why a dog might bite, including fear, protection of territory, or to show dominance over the person being bitten. Although the reasons why a dog might attack are varied, the New Jersey Dog Bite Law is clear: Dog owners are responsible for the actions of their dogs. In addition to the state-wide Dog Bite Law, you should also check your local ordinances.

Whose fault is it?

Dog owners are legally responsible for preventing their dogs from causing personal injury and property damage. In most dog-bite cases, the animal's owner will be required to pay all medical and property damage bills associated with a dog attack. Sometimes, however, the dog's "keeper," or the person who was taking care of the animal at the time of the attack, may be held responsible. If the dog's owner lives in an apartment or rents a house, the landlord can also be responsible for damages for failing to adequately check the background of the dog, or if the landlord knew or should have known about the dog's dangerous nature, or for other reasons.

  • medical expenses
  • lost income from work
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional injuries
  • property damage

The medical expenses associated with a dog bite can be extremely costly, especially in the event of a scarring injury. Scars can be a serious, life-long result of a dog bite. Children, because of their size, are particularly susceptible to bites around the head and face. Scarring injuries not only cause physical problems, but can also cause emotional injuries, such as trauma and fear.

The New Jersey Dog Law

New Jersey's Dog Law requires owners and keepers to have reasonable control over their dogs at all times. The law also requires owners to confine their dogs on their premises, and restrain their dogs with a collar, chain, or other device to prevent straying. This makes sense, because the majority of people who have been killed in dog attacks between 1979 and 1998 were attacked by dogs who were on their owner's property, but not restrained, at the time of the attack.

In addition, people that own "dangerous" dogs are not permitted to let these dogs outside of an enclosure, unless the dog is muzzled and restrained by a chain or leash and physically restrained by an owner or keeper. A dog is "potentially dangerous" if it severely injuries someone without provocation or has a history or propensity of attacking people or domestic animals without provocation. When a dog is determined potentially dangerous by the authorities, the law requires the owner to:

  • register the dog as a dangerous dog
  • properly confine the dog and post a warning sign with a warning symbol that is understood by children
  • have a surety bond or liability insurance in the amount of $50,000 in case the dog injures someone

Regardless of the breed, so long as a dog is not provoked, its owner is responsible for any and all severe injuries the dog causes -- even if the dog never bit anyone before. This means criminal responsibility as well as civil responsibility. For example, if a dog attacks someone and causes severe injuries, the owner will be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if the attack resulted from the intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct of the owner. In addition, the victim can sue the owner and may be entitled to collect a variety of damages, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional injury, lost income from work, and property damage.

Free Consultation

If you, or someone you care about, have been the unfortunate victim of a dog bite, contact our law firm for a free consultation.