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When is a New Jersey Dog Owner Strictly Liable for Injuries Caused by their Dog?



New Jersey law makes a dog owner strictly liable for injuries resulting from their dog biting a person, even if the owner did not act negligently and even if the bite is the first and only time the dog ever displayed any aggressive behavior.  But what about when a dog causes injuries to a person without actually biting them? This is a surprisingly commonplace occurrence.  It is not uncommon for a dog to knock an older person over by running into them or jumping up on them.  This can happen in public, such as at a park, or it can happen when someone visits the dog owner’s home.  Similarly, small children can be seriously injured by dogs without being bitten.  A bad scratch by a dog can leave permanent disfiguring scars, for example.  Does the injured person have to prove actual negligence by the owner in order to receive compensation for these types of non-bite injuries?  That would not seem fair.

New Jersey law actually provides a high level of fairness for victims of non-bite injuries.  If a non-bite injury is caused by the “vicious, playful or mischievous propensities” of the dog, the owner is strictly liable, provided the owner was aware of those propensities prior to the injury.  The courts have decided that even exuberant friendliness of a dog can give rise to strict liability if the owner knows of that conduct.

New Jersey law is among the most progressive, safety-centered body of law in the U.S. in the area of liability for injuries caused by dogs.  Public safety is valued very highly and this serves the dual purpose of incentivizing dog owners to maintain control over their dogs whenever they are around strangers.


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