Pet Owner Liabilities

Having a dog, cat, or other pet requires a great deal of responsibility, and it also requires owners to understand the legal issues associated with pet ownership.

The biggest legal issue that comes with pet ownership is the possibility that your pet could injure another person. Whether it’s a bite or simply a large animal bowling over someone in excitement, there is serious potential for even the sweetest domestic animals to cause harm.

This discussion of pet liability will focus on injuries caused by dog, as these are the most common, but it is important to note that New Jersey law can apply to all animal injuries. While the New Jersey dog bite statute does not apply to all pet-related injuries, but the law typically allows the injured person to sue the owner under the normal personal injury procedure; as the pet’s owner, he or she takes responsibility for the animal’s actions, including those that cause injury to a third party.

In certain states, you can escape liability for injuries caused by your dog if it was your animal’s first incident or if the animal has no history of being dangerous. However, New Jersey operates under a strict liability statute when it comes to dog bites. Strict liability means that, in the vast majority of cases, the owner is liable for any injuries caused—even for the very first incident.

There are three general exceptions to the strict liability statute:

  • Trespassing: If someone enters a property without permission and is injured by the dog living there, the owner can often avoid liability for the injuries because the injured person was trespassing.
  • Veterinarian: If the person injured is a veterinarian treating the dog, the owner typically is not liable for those injuries.
  • Provocation: If someone provokes the dog, such as by hitting it, the owner is generally not liable for injuries

In order to bring a successful dog bite claim in New Jersey, the injured person must prove the following things:

  • He or she was attacked/injured by the dog
  • The defendant is the owner of the dog
  • The injured person did not provoke the dog in any way
  • The injured person was acting peaceably somewhere that he or she had the right to be (i.e. not trespassing)

More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the U.S. The largest number of severe bites affect children and senior citizens, and approximately 20 percent of dog bites require medical attention. Click here for more information about dog bites and New Jersey law.

Learn more about premises liability and how developers and construction officials can be held accountable for negligent construction here.