In the wintertime, I usually post a few blogs about the dangers of ice and snow to pedestrians and drivers.  Now that summer is starting and more people are outside with their pets, it’s time to discuss another issue that can pose a danger to pedestrians, walkers, and runners: dog bites.  Although many people’s dogs are no threat to strangers, there often is a rise in reported dog bite incidents during warmer weather months when animals and humans tend to be outside more often.  Recently, a 15-year old boy in Illinois was riding home from school on his bike when he stopped to talk to some friends.  During that time, a 120-pound bullmastiff which had escaped from its owner’s yard pulled the boy off his bike and attacked him.  The dog continued to attack the boy for about 5 minutes until a neighbor subdued the dog.  The victim suffered serious bite wounds, which required two surgeries.  His physical injuries resulted in permanent scarring.  He also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for which he underwent psychological counseling.  His medical expenses totaled about $70,600.

The boy’s mother sued the owner of the dog.  Among other things, the plaintiff sued under an Illinois statute which imposes strict liability on owners whose animals injure peaceable, non-trespassing people without provocation.  The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant dog owner was negligent in failing to adequately secure the dog.  The plaintiff contended that the dog had escaped from a broken portion of the fence that the defendant had attempted to secure with a boulder.  The defendant denied that the fence was broken and maintained that the dog had eaten through the fence overnight.  The plaintiff was prepared to offer testimony from a neighbor who had reported that the hole in the fence had been there for months before the dog attacked the boy.

The parties settled for about $1.13 million, which was paid by the defendant dog owner’s insurance policy.

This is just one of the many examples where peaceable, non-trespassing people have been severely injured by dogs without provocation.  In New Jersey, a dog owner can be liable if its dog attacks someone who is not trespassing on the dog owner’s property.  The New Jersey statute on dog bites states:

“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.

For the purpose of this section, a person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner thereof.”

Keep in mind that the statute does not apply if the victim was trespassing without criminal intent, or if the injury was not caused by a dog bite, or if the defendant was not the dog’s owner. However, a cause of action also can be based upon common law strict liability for what are known in the law as scienter, negligence, and negligence per se.

Dog bites can cause serious, life-changing injuries, as illustrated above.  For that reason, always be on the lookout for stray dogs when you are outside.  Never attempt to provoke a dog that you encounter.  You also should be cognizant of dogs that are behind fences.  Just because a dog is behind a fence does not mean you are safe.  Dogs frequently can escape from fences or blockades.  Also, if you encounter a dog that is on a leash, don’t assume the dog is friendly.  Dogs often will bite without provocation.

We handle all types of dog bite personal injury cases, so if you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a dog bite, please contact Stark & Stark soon as possible to discuss the situation.  Let us help you evaluate your legal options.