Dog Bites in Most Circumstances Come with Strict Liability
Docket No.: A-17-20
Decided August 5, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reviewed whether plaintiff was strictly liable for a dog bite when plaintiff warned defendant, a kennel worker, that the dog had bit her son before.
In Goldhagen v. Pasmowitz, in July 2015, defendant Susan Pasmowitz’s Rottweiler mix, Louie, bit plaintiff Bonay Goldhagen, causing a severe facial injury. At the time of the incident, plaintiff was a groomer and kennel assistant employed at a pet care facility where defendant boarded Louie and her other dog, Otis. Defendant told plaintiff and the facility’s manager that Louie had “nipped” or “bit” her son, and she urged caution in handling the dog. Defendant completed an intake form that was displayed outside the kennel housing Louie and Otis. The intake form indicated that defendant’s dogs “Must eat separately” — a notation underlined and emphasized with an asterisk — and that staff should “sit with Otis to eat.”
Plaintiff admitted that she did not review the intake form for defendant’s dogs until after Louie bit her. According to plaintiff, a kennel staff member told her that the dogs needed to be fed separately. Plaintiff testified that the facility was very busy and “only had one accommodation for the dogs, so in order to separate them somebody would have to go in and sit with one of them.” Plaintiff stated that when she was sitting next to Otis after putting the dogs’ food bowls down in their kennel, she turned around to look at Louie, and he bit her.
Plaintiff asserted a claim based on the Dog Bite Statute, as well as common-law claims for absolute liability and negligence. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, relying on an independent contractor exception to strict liability under the Dog Bite Statute recognized by the Appellate Division in Reynolds v. Lancaster County Prison, 325 N.J. Super. 298 (App. Div. 1999). The trial court denied plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability with respect to her common-law claims.
The Appellate Division affirmed the grant of summary judgment to defendant and denial of plaintiff’s cross-motion. The Court granted certification.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that it was not the legislature’s intent for the contractor exception to strict liability under Reynolds to apply here. Although the Court applied strict liability, the Court noted that the Comparative Negligence Act still applied, and could limit the damages depending on the comparative fault found on account of defendant.
This case is important to understand that dog bites in most circumstances come with strict liability, which means that it does not matter what the intent of the defendant is or the circumstances. The only thing the plaintiff needs to prove is that they were bitten and the defendant is the owner of the dog. Now this does not mean that the plaintiff completely wins. The jury can consider comparative fault, i.e., whether the plaintiff was partly/solely responsible for the dog bite. If they were found to be more than 50% responsible for their own injury, they cannot recover anything.
If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog, injured in a car accident, truck crash, or slip and fall, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Hark & Hark today. For personal injury matters, no money is paid up front, and fees are only collected if a recovery is made. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County.