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New Jersey Dog Bite Statute & Laws

Strict Liability for Dog Bites in New Jersey


New Jersey dog bite law has evolved significantly over the years.  New Jersey's dog bite law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-16) is a strict liability statute.  This means that an owner of a dog is liable regardless of the viciousness of their dog.  Viciousness generally refers to whether or not the dog has been proved to be vicious in the past or has bitten someone previously to the latest incident.  The NJ Dog Bite Statute refers to a dog biting someone in a public place such as a park or sidewalk or while the victim is lawfully in or on a private place including the dog owner's property.  If you were bitten in a public place or even in the home of the dog's owner (provided you are there lawfully), the dog's owner will be liable for your injuries if there are no defense factors.  The strict liability statute is as follows:

N.J.S.A. 4:19-16 Liability of Owner Regardless of Viciousness of Dog

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.

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New Jersey Dog Bite Law: Three Elements of the NJ Dog Bite Statue

The elements of a dog bite case that have to be proved to obtain a favorable judgment for the victim according to Model Civil Jury Charge 5:60A are:

  1. That the defendant was the owner of the dog in question
  2. That the plaintiff was on or in a public place or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the defendant
  3. That the dog did bite the plaintiff while in such a place

All of these elements must be supported by evidence that may be obtained during pre-trial discovery.

Insurance Concerns in Analyzing New Jersey Dog Bite Law


When an attorney reviews your case, he or she will attempt to determine what type of insurance coverage, if any, the dog owner has.  There are a number of policies that may cover a dog bite incident including: (1) homeowner's insurance; (2) renter's insurance; (3) commercial general liability insurance; (4) umbrella insurance policies; (5) automobile insurance; (6) mobile home owner's insurance; (7) condominium owner's insurance; and (8) landlord's insurance.  Once the type of insurance coverage is obtained, an experienced NJ dog bite attorney can then develop a strategy as to how to approach the case.

NJ Dog Bite Law Defense Concerns: Negligence

A defendant in a NJ dog bite case may use the defense of negligence to minimize his or her liability.  If the defendant raises this defense, he or she bears the burden of proof to show that you, the victim, were negligent.  The defendant must prove that you exposed yourself voluntarily to a known risk.  This can mean that you were previously aware of the violent propensity of the dog or you deliberately intended to incite the dog to bite.

Landlord Liability for a Dog Bite in New Jersey

You may also have a claim against a landlord or the property owner under New Jersey dog bite law.  Model Civil Jury Charge 5.60B outlines what must be proved in order to hold a landlord or property owner liable in New Jersey.  The jury must determine the following:

  1. That the dog had a vicious or dangerous trait or propensity
  2. That the defendant, landlord, or property owner, knew, or in the process of reasonable care, should have known of the particular vicious or dangerous trait or propensity in the dog which caused the plaintiff's injuries

Viciousness of the dog can be proved by: (1) animal control records; (2) police report records; (3) veterinarian records; (4) neighbors' statements; (5) admissions of the dog owner; (6) prior victim statements; (7) other visitors to the property; or (8) private investigator information.


If you have suffered a dog bite in New Jersey, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries, emotional distress, lost wages and hospital and medical costs.

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Has numerous years of experience handling dog bite and personal injury cases in New Jersey. As a leader in his field, Mr. Villani has taught “Handling The Dog Bite Case In New Jersey” to fellow lawyers and judges at the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education.