A New Jersey Appellate Court recently overturned a lower court ruling allowing a woman from Bergen County woman who was bitten by a dog while pet-sitting to proceed with a suit against the dog’s owners. (1)
According to reports, the victim was being paid to watch her neighbors’ dog while they were on vacation. During this time, the dog allegedly bit her as she reached down to retrieve a napkin that had fallen to the floor. A Superior Court identified the victim as an independent contractor because the woman had previously been paid through a pet-sitting agency; the Court ruled that she was not eligible for damages unless she could prove the dog’s owners were aware the dog was likely to attack. (1)
Although New Jersey ranks only 48th in the country in terms of pet ownership, (2) it has some of the strictest dog bite laws. These laws hold dog owners liable if their dog bites anyone in a public place or on private property (assuming the victim was on that property legally), regardless of the dog’s prior behavior. (3)
Acknowledging these strict laws, an Appellate Court judge reviewing the above-mentioned case, overruled the earlier decision, pointing out that the State law holds pet owners responsible for any bites, damages or accidents caused by their dog. New Jersey does not allow any dog a “free” bite, so prior behavior is not a consideration. The dog’s owner is responsible for any damages the dog may impose on someone, unless the attack was provoked. (3) By State law, the victim in this case was within her rights to sue for damages.
To increase chances of recovering damages, bite victims must be able to identify the attacking dog and its owner. They should also seek medical care for their wounds and make sure such care is properly documented. Additionally, gathering contact and insurance information on the dog’s owner and contact information for any witnesses to the attack can help strengthen a case. Finally, claims must be filed in a timely manner.
If you need legal assistance because you have been bitten by a dog and have sustained injuries, whether a victim or a dog owner in Hunterdon County or the surrounding areas, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Ragland Law Firm; the firm is conveniently located on U.S. 22 in Lebanon, NJ, within minutes of Clinton and approximately ten miles from Flemington, NJ.