A recent vicious attack on a nine-year old girl in Jersey City's Lafayette Park has thrust the issue of dog bite injuries and liability into the spotlight. Amazingly, the child escaped with relatively minor injuries in spite of suffering a large bite on her right ankle. From all accounts, the girl was simply visiting Lafayette Park with her family and did nothing to provoke the large dog, which had escaped from the backyard of a nearby home. The girl's mother, older brother and several responding police officers tried unsuccessfully to get the dog to release her leg by using force (including punching and kicking it), to no avail. Police were forced to shoot it twice in order to free the girl.
Tragically, this attack is not unusual: since December of 2009, there have been 13 similar incidents involving pit bulls assaulting people or animals in New Jersey alone. Across the country, there have been roughly 70 similar attacks during that same period (an approximation based on historical trends studied over the past 20 years). Some municipalities have taken the radical step of banning specific breeds (those well-known for their propensity toward violence, relative ease at being trained to attack and historical likelihood to do so) like pit bulls, rottweilers and Dobermans. No breed-specific banning regulations are allowed in New Jersey, however.
Laws Governing Dog Attacks in New Jersey
While New Jersey law specifically exempts liability for dog owners whose animals attacks trespassers or those committing crimes on private property, statutes governing dog bites in public places (or to a permitted invitee onto private land, whether it is used for personal or business purposes) are particularly harsh. Unlike some other states, which allow animals "one free bite", New Jersey imposes strict liability on the owner of the biting dog, regardless of whether the dog has bitten someone in the past or the owner's knowledge of the animal's past aggressive behavior. In fact, the dog need not even bite the victim - any harm caused by the animal (physical, emotional or psychological) is likewise covered. If authorities deem the animal to be vicious under criteria set forth in Chapter 187, § 22. 4:19-22 of the New Jersey Statutes, the state dictates that it must be humanely put down at the owner's expense.
What Damages Are Included Under the Law?
The relevant laws only mention vaguely that the animal owner is responsible for "such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten", which obviously leaves room for broad interpretation. Clearly costs involved with immediate medical and psychological treatment sought after the attack would logically be covered (typically provided by the pet owner's homeowner insurance), but other compensation may be available. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an attack by a dog or other animal, you should consult a personal injury attorney in your area who has experience handling these cases to learn more about your rights and options.