By Brian W. McAlindin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Twain once said, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog”. No doubt dogs are among the most loyal pets and friends a dog owner can ever have. With dog ownership, however, comes responsibility. Knowing the law and checking your homeowner’s insurance policy can not only help an owner keep that dog, but also ensure the owner remains best friends with the dog and with neighbors.
Brian W. McAlindin, Esq. recently obtained a $225,000 settlement in favor of a 10 year old boy viciously attacked by a Pit Bull. The animal was temporarily housed by the boy’s parents for the owner while a suitable new owner was being sought. The boy was home with his 6 year-old sister and their babysitter when the Pit Bull attacked the family dog. As the victim attempted to separate the dogs, the Pit Bull attacked, clamping on the boy’s buttocks. He was able to free himself from the Pit Bull’s grip, no easy task, and hid his head and neck in the cushions of a nearby couch. The Pit Bull pursued the boy, biting his back, upper arm, and shoulder to the bone resulting in serious and permanent musculature injury, loss of range of motion, permanent pain and suffering, disfiguring scarring, and emotional distress.
Luckily, upon hearing screams of the boy and other children who witnessed the attack, a neighbor ran into the house, grabbed a broom, and beat the Pit Bull until it released the boy’s shoulder. The boy was hospitalized for ten days, suffered an infection, underwent reconstructive surgery, and fortunately, made a good recovery. To this day, however, he shudders when he hears the bark of a dog.
Stories such as this are all too common. Regrettably, the consequences are often far worse. DogsBite.org reports that there were 37 fatalities from dog attacks in the US last year, nearly 75% by Pit Bulls. From 2005-2017, 433 Americans were killed by dog attacks and two thirds were by Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls and Rottweilers accounted for more than three-quarters of the deaths from dog attacks during that period. It is no wonder that several homeowner’s insurance companies have breed exclusions for Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. If you own that breed, it is a good idea to review your insurance policy. If your breed is excluded from coverage under the policy, contact your insurance broker to see if you can pay an additional premium for an endorsement overriding the breed exclusion. DogsBite.org and similar organizations warn against bringing Pit Bulls and Rottweilers owned by others into the household, especially if you own another dog or have small children. The risks of tragedy are just too great.
The New Jersey Legislature has imposed strict liability upon dog owners for dog bites. N.J.S.A. 4:19-16 provides:
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.
The old rule of “one free dog bite” or any requirement of knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities is a thing of the past. In addition to civil liability, the owner of a dog that attacks faces potential NJ State criminal sanctions and municipal criminal sanctions—NJ law and many local ordinances make an owner subject to criminal prosecution for dog attacks. State law even provides that if a dog kills another dog, bites a human, or is otherwise determined to be “vicious” by a preponderance of the evidence, the court shall order that the dog be destroyed in the most humane way possible.
If you or a loved one has suffered a dog attack, feel free to contact Brian W. McAlindin, Esq., for a free consultation. If you own a dog, remember to check your homeowner’s or tenant’s insurance policy, consider dog obedience school, remember to leash your pet, and make sure your yard has sufficient fencing to secure your animal. A dog may be man’s best friend, but a responsible owner can be a dog’s and a neighbor’s even better friend.
Bathgate, Wegener & Wolf