Dog Owners Beware
By: Attorney, Thomas R. Smith
Man’s best friend can become his visitor’s enemy. So, if you are a dog owner take steps to avoid a very preventable injury to your visitor and very expensive injury lawsuit. If you are a visitor injured by the dog’s behavior, then you have the right to compensation for damages.
Recently, a New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County awarded $100,000 in damages to a UPS driver for injuries he suffered while trying to deliver a package. The homeowners’ dog was roaming alone loose on the property, had a history of viciousness, went at the driver, and the driver severely and permanently injured his knee trying to escape.
Also, recently, an unrestrained dog jumped out of its owner’s car window and viciously attacked a woman and her dog. The attacking dog was reported to be a repeat offender.
New Jersey law holds dog owners liable, or financially responsible, for injuries caused by their dog’s behavior in three possible – and very common – scenarios.
First, New Jersey law says dog owners, and only the owners, are strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog’s bite, so long as the victim was lawfully on the property and regardless of the dog’s history.
However, if the dog has a vicious propensity that the owner knew or should have known, then the dog’s owner or even the dog’s keeper are responsible for any injuries caused by the dog – even if not caused by biting and biting was not involved in the incident. Vicious propensity can be proven simply by the dog’s history of biting, jumping, chasing, scratching, or even being overly affectionate or playful. “Down boy!”
And, third, even if the dog did not bite and did not have a vicious propensity, then the owner or keeper may be liable for injuries because they failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care for the safety of others.
Owners have a duty to provide safe premises for those invited onto its property and a duty to control their dogs. It is considered dangerous to allow a dog on your property unleashed, unrestrained or unfenced, or to roam free, unsupervised or in an area where it is likely to encounter strangers. At least a clear warning of the dog’s presence should be posted.
People visit for a variety of legitimate reasons every day: Mail carriers, newspaper carriers, package deliverers, utility & maintenance workers, fundraisers, friends and family. Knowing this, owners must anticipate their dog’s behavior. Dogs protect their turf. They investigate strangers. They approach and greet anyone who enters their turf. Unless the dog is responsibly controlled, preventable injuries are likely to happen.
Even friendly dogs can cause serious injury – unintentionally. A big, friendly dog that gets excited when visitors arrive can knock the visitor down, wrench their back, twist their ankle, or otherwise “kill” them with kindness and curiosity. Just the sight of a large dog on the loose and coming toward a visitor can frighten them into hasty escape and injury. Not everyone shares enthusiasm for dogs, especially a 100-pound German Shepard rushing to say “Hello” … or “Get lost”. And that’s their right.
When dog owners fail to exercise care and visitors are injured, people’s lives can be ruined and courts will impose substantial money damages to compensate victims. Compensation has been recovered for injuries when someone was running from a dog, when someone fell after being chased by a dog, or when someone was knocked to the ground by a dog.
Owning a dog carries special responsibility to ensure others’ safety. If you are a delivery person, newspaper carrier, utility worker, or any visitor to another’s property where a dog is present, and are injured by the dog, you have a right to recover money damages under the law.
Learn more about Personal Injury & Accident Law
About the Author
Thomas R. Smith, Esq. is a partner in the Princeton-based law firm Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman who specializes in personal injury and criminal law with 17 years of trial experience. You can reach Mr. Smith at 609-520-0900.
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