Dog Bites and The Law in NJ
by: W. Les Hartman
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The numbers are staggering, really. Over 4.5 million Americans, half of them children, are bitten by dogs each year according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some 20 percent of those bites require medical attention, and nearly 30,000 people each year need reconstructive surgery as a result of a dog bite.
As cliche as it may be, a dog attack can happen to anyone.
And in New Jersey, it’s always the owner of the dog who is liable. N.J.S.A. 4:19-16 plainly reads: “The owner of any dog which shall bite a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
So it’s clear who is at fault.
But just because the law spells it out doesn’t make it a slam dunk case.
“I would treat a dog bite the same way you might treat a traffic accident,” said Michael D. Mumola, a partner at KMHL who specializes in personal injury matters. “Just like you would make sure to document who was driving the car, just like you would trade insurance cards and just like you might call the police, I would follow the same path if you or a loved one were bitten by a dog.”
In short: Don’t let it go. Document what happened, even if the wound appears to be superficial. Mumola recommends you create a chain of evidence, leaving little doubt as to what occurred.
“Make sure you get the name, address and contact information of the owner of the dog,” Mumola said. “In addition – and especially if the dog was loose and there’s no clear owner – I’d get the name, address and contact information of anybody who may have witnessed the attack.”
Mumola then says a trip to the doctor – even if the wound appears to be superficial – would be the next immediate step.
“Not only for your health, but to further document the attack,” he said.
At this point – and if you haven’t already – it’s time to bring the authorities into it. Granted, if the attack was particularly vicious, this probably would have happened already, but if not, Mumola says to contact the police and animal control.
“Also, I’d make sure to take pictures of the wound,” Mumola said. “This can only help bolster your case.”
Being bitten by a dog is a scary experience and not having the right – or any – representation in attempting to collect damages would only make it worse.