New Jersey Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When is the owner liable for dog bite injuries in a personal injury claim or lawsuit in New Jersey?

In this article, we'll look at New Jersey's dog bite laws, starting with the deadline for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a New Jersey civil court. Then, we'll discuss New Jersey's dog bite statute and its status as a "strict liability" state. Finally, we'll look at some defenses that a dog owner might raise in a dog bite case.

Deadlines for Dog Bite Lawsuits in New Jersey

New Jersey laws set a deadline, known as the statute of limitations, for filing personal injury cases in the state's civil court system. This deadline encompasses dog bite cases. In New Jersey, you have two years from the date of a dog bite injury to file a lawsuit in court. Your lawsuit will most likely be dismissed altogether if you try to file it after the two years have passed, so it's important to know exactly when the deadline falls in your case.

Dog Bite Laws in New Jersey

Dog bites in New Jersey are covered by New Jersey Statutes section 4:19-16. The statute makes the dog's owner liable for any dog bite injuries that occur:

  • when the person bitten is in a private place or lawfully in a public place,
  • regardless of any prior indications of viciousness of the dog, or the owners' knowledge of any former viciousness.

New Jersey's dog bite statute is a "strict liability" statute. This means that a biting dog's owner is liable for injuries caused by the dog bite, even if he or she used reasonable care to restrain the dog or to protect or warn others.

In other words, when a person who is bitten by a dog in New Jersey, he or she does not need to prove that the dog's owner was careless or negligent. All that needs to be proven is that the bite occurred.

The statute covers only injuries caused by dog bites. It does not cover injuries caused by dogs in other ways. For instance, if a dog jumps on a person who is on a public sidewalk and knocks the person down, causing injury, the statute does not apply (although in that case the injured person may seek compensation through a negligence claim, based on the argument that the dog owner failed to adequately control the animal.)

Defenses to New Jersey Dog Bite Claims

A dog owner in New Jersey has at least one possible defense to a dog bite claim: an argument that the dog bite victim was trespassing when the incident occurred.

In order for New Jersey's dog bite statute (discussed above) to apply, the person bitten must be either on public property or "lawfully" on private property. People carrying out official duties, such as mail carriers delivering mail, are considered to be "lawfully" on private property for the purposes of the law.

However, a trespasser is not "lawfully" on the property, and so the statute may not apply.

Many "strict liability" states also create a defense for provocation: that is, if the person bitten provoked the dog by teasing or abusing it, the owner is not liable. However, New Jersey's dog bite statute does not provide for such a defense.

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