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NJ Dog Attack/Bite Cases: Strict Liability Vs. Absolute Liability In Non-Bite Injury Cases (Part 1)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.  Of those that require medical treatment, about half of them are children.

Not only are people injured in dog bite attacks, people are also injured by dogs in non-bite attacks.  A common example of a non-bite accident is as follows: a jogger is running, and a dog escapes from his yard and chases the jogger.  In an attempt to get away from the dog, the jogger runs faster and trips.  As a result, he fractures his ankle.  Though the dog does not actually bite the jogger, the jogger is injured because he was trying to get away from the dog.

What are the victims' legal rights after non-bite dog attack cases?  Each state has its own law, and this article will address the dog attack/bite law in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, dog attack victims may be confused when it comes to interpreting the law pertaining to non-bite dog attacks.  Two terms are often used in non-bite dog attack cases in New Jersey: strict liability and absolute liability.  What is the difference between these 2 terms?

Related: New Jersey Dog Bite Law: What You Should Know

Strict Liability Standard

It has long been established that New Jersey's dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the dog owner for injuries caused by their dog in a dog attack.  Therefore, if a dog bites or attacks a victim, the owner is liable for the victim's injuries even if the dog never attacked before.

In cases where the dog does not actually bite the victim, but the victim was injured, New Jersey imposes strict liability if the victim's injuries are caused by a vicious, playful or mischievous propensity of the dog if the dog owner had prior knowledge of the propensity.  New Jersey courts refer to the owner's prior knowledge as "scienter."

The leading case establishing strict liability for non-bite injuries in New Jersey is Jannuzzelli v. Wilkins.  In Jannuzzelli, the victim was a minor who was injured by his neighbor's dog.  The dog scratched the minor but did not bite the minor.

The court held that the dog owners (defendants) were still strictly liable for the child's injuries even though the dog did not bite the child.  Evidence established that the defendants knew that their dog had a propensity to jump on people in order to get people to pet him.  The court held that since the dog owners knew of the dog's playful or mischievous propensity which ultimately led to the child's injury, the owners were strictly liable.

Even though Jannuzzelli was in 1978, it still remains the law today in New Jersey with regard to non-bite dog attack cases.

Click here to see part 2 of the article which discusses absolute liability.

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To schedule a free consultation with Daniel J. O'Brien, an experienced NJ dog attack/bite lawyer, call 877.944.8396.

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