Personal injury cases can be traumatic. The money you receive for damages during a personal injury suit can both pay for medical charges and generate monetary compensation for the emotional trauma. While vehicular accidents and medical mishaps are painful, fewer things are worse than when man’s best friend turns on you and draws blood in a vicious attack. However, when pursuing a personal injury suit over a Dog Bite, you can’t sue the animal for money. The dog can’t pay for personal damages. So, what can you do in situations like these?
Who is Responsible?
Dog Bite cases are covered over the legal jurisdiction of each American state. In New Jersey, like many other states, the responsible party for any dog bite is the dog’s owner. Ergo, if a dog attacks you, its owner is liable for all of the damages inflicted upon a victim, be they physical or emotional. In the past, however, the rule used to be that the victim would have to show that the dog had a propensity to bite others before it bit the victim. This was known as the “One Bite Rule.”
Strict liability in NJ is governed by N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, which provides:
4:19-16. Liability of owner regardless of viciousness of dog
The owner of any dog which shall bite a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.
For the purpose of this section, a person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner thereof.
Under this law, a plaintiff must only prove that the defendant owned the dog, that the dog bit the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff legally occupied the owner’s property or was in a public place. Furthermore, the dog bite does not necessarily have to involve breaking the victim’s skin. Surface-level injuries or bites through clothing can still apply, so long as a bite took place.
However, once the plaintiff can prove this, the dog owner becomes responsible for all injuries to the plaintiff flowing from the dog bite or attack. This includes bleeding damage, infection, medical charges, emotional trauma resulting from the initial injury or recovery, etc. The model jury charge on damages allows the following to be considered by the jury.
A Dog's Day in Court
In a Dog Bite case that goes to a jury, the judge will read to the jury the above statute and then explain the following:
In order for you to find the defendant liable, the plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence the following elements:
- That the defendant was the owner of the dog in question;
- That the plaintiff was on or in a public place or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the defendant, and finally
- That the dog did bite the plaintiff while in such a place.
If you find that the plaintiff has failed to establish any of the foregoing elements, your verdict will be in favor of the defendant.
In deciding whether the plaintiff was on or in a public place or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the defendant, you should note that anyone whose presence is expressly or impliedly permitted on the property is entitled to the protection of the statute I have just read; the permission extends to all areas which the plaintiff may reasonably believe to be included within its scope.
If you find that the plaintiff has established each of the foregoing elements, your verdict will be in favor of the plaintiff.
How Much Are You Owed?
If the victim of a dog bite satisfies the above elements and a jury finds in the victim or plaintiff’s favor, then the jury will proceed to consider the amount of damages. That amount will depend on both the injury itself and any resulting medical and therapy charges after.
There are thankfully several things you can do following your dog bite to ensure you receive the fair and full compensation you deserve. The most important element is to document everything following your injury. The more proof you have of injury and damages, the stronger your claim will be in the court. Some things you can do include:
- Photograph the injury, both when its fresh and over time to show how the injury heals
- Photograph any scarring that occurs as a result of the injury
- Get medical treatment as soon after the injury as possible
- Retain medical bills or any other evidence of payment correlating to or as a result of the injury
- Document any miscellaneous pain or impediments from the injury
- Bills for psychological counseling and therapy
The attorneys at Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens & Cammarota LLP can help. Please call our offices to schedule a free consultation and hear your options.