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A walk on the beach turns dangerous

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Nov 4, 2019 |

When on vacation with your family to the beach, a reasonable person might expect to come back with a sunburn. This August, a family vacationing in Wildwood, New Jersey faced a very different sort of harm. 

As they walked on the beach on their last day of vacation before the start of the school year, the 11-year old boy and his family came upon the dog and its owner. After getting permission to pet it from the owner, the boy approached the dog.  At that point, the dog bit the boy on the nose. When the family called an ambulance, the dog owner ran away, though he later turned himself in.

In the United States, more than 4.5 million dog-bite incidents are reported every year.  In New Jersey, in 2016 alone, more than $28 million dollars was paid out in insurance claims as a result of dog-bites.

Dog owners are responsible for their dogs, and serious consequences can result

In the aftermath of the incident, the family will very likely incur high medical costs as a result of surgeries and trauma therapy.  While the dog owner may feel that the accident was out of his control, he had a responsibility to make sure the dog was under control and trained.

When a dog bite is reported, the animal control officer has the authority under N.J.S.A. 4:19-19 to seize the dog until there can be a determination as to whether the animal is either vicious, potentially dangerous, or neither. 

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 4:19-23, a dog is considered “potentially dangerous” when it has either (1) caused bodily injury to a person, or poses a serious threat of bodily injury or death to a person, or (2) if the dog has killed or caused serious bodily injury to another domestic animal, and poses a serious threat of bodily injury or death to a person or a serious threat of death to another domestic animal.  If the dog was provoked, was protecting its owner or its owner’s property, was protecting its offspring, or if the person was injured because he intervened between two fighting dogs, then the animal “shall not be declared potentially dangerous.” 

If your dog is declared potentially dangerous, the municipal court will issue an order setting a number of conditions on your continued ownership, including: the obtaining of a special license, the posting of warning signs on your property, and to erect a fence or other enclosure.   You may also be required to obtain special liability insurance. 

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 4:19-22, a dog is considered “vicious” when it has either killed or caused serious bodily injury to a person.  A dog may not be declared vicious if it was provoked.  The municipality bears the burden of showing that the dog was not provoked. 

If your dog is declared vicious, the municipal court may order you to comply with restrictions at least as stringent as those set out above for a potentially dangerous dog.  However, the court may also order your dog to be euthanized.  You do have the ability to appeal any determination made by the municipal court under these statutes.

Regardless of the eventual fate of the dog who caused an injury, under New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, a dog owner is strictly liable for damages caused by their dog biting another person, whether the bite occurs in a private dwelling or in a public place.  Unlike states such as Idaho, Kansas, or New Mexico, in which the owners are only liable if they had knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities,” known as a “One-Bite Rule,” in New Jersey, strictly liable means that the owner is responsible for all damages regardless of whether they knew that their dog was prone to such violence or not.

How Cohn Lifland Can Help

If your child faces an injury from someone else’s dog, make sure you get the owner’s information.  A skilled personal injury lawyer, like those at Cohn Lifland, can help you to determine if the dog owner will need to take responsibility for the actions of the dog.