New Jersey dog bite law shall determine if Pit Bull shall live or die

The owner of the pit bull accused of terrorizing the community by biting five people in one day told a Parsippany New Jersey Municipal Court Judge that his dog had been provoked by passers-by.

The owner of the pit bull appeared in court to plead not guilty to the three charges lodged against him for the April 2 2008 attacks by his Pit bull. The victims were treated and released from the hospital for mostly superficial bites.

Municipal Prosecutor said the state intended to have the dog declared “potentially dangerous,” which he said was the “proper, prudent thing to pursue” given the rampage the dog went on outside the Lake Hiawatha branch of the public library.

The judge said the dog owner was offering a defense, which is something for him to do at trial, and asked again whether he understood the potential consequences of a finding of guilty. The owner said he believed the township was seeking “to put the dog down.”

That the pit bull will not likely be destroyed did not sit well with one of the victims, who attended the hearing. He described the horror of trying to pull the dog off another victim only to have the pit bull bite him on his leg before charging his 13-year-old daughter. “I want to tell the judge what I went through,” he said. “Trust me, it’s too dangerous.”

Parsippany’s animal control officer, said… “Our concern is for public safety and we don’t want people mugged in the street by pit bulls — and that’s just what happened,”  As reported in The Star -Ledger.  Please read more.

It is important to understand the differences in New Jersey’s laws pertaining to the municipal court’s role after a dog bite in declaring a dog “vicious” vs. declaring a dog “potentially dangerous”. The requisite standard of proof that the municipal court judge must follow in both situations requires a finding by the court by what is called “clear and convincing evidence”.  The main difference in the statute would be that if a dog had killed or caused “serious bodily injury” to a person it would be deemed vicious but if the dog caused “bodily injury”  to a person and poses a serious threat of bodily injury or death to a person, or poses a threat of serious bodily injury or death to a person it shall be deemed potentially dangerous. It is important to note that if the dog was provoked then the provocation would be a defense to the court’s declaring a dog either vicious or potentially dangerous. The municipality shall bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that the dog was not provoked.

The significance of the terminology between the court declaring a dog vicious versus declaring the dog potentially dangerous has nothing to do with the liability of the dog owner but it will determine the dog’s fate. That is if the municipal court declares a dog to be vicious, and no appeal is made of this ruling, the dog shall be destroyed in a humane and expeditious manner.

In New Jersey the fact that a dog attacked someone is sufficient to make the owner of the dog strictly liable for the injuries caused to the victim. We do not require the owner to have had knowledge of the viciousness of the dog before the dog owner shall be deemed liable.

I have reproduced the relevant New Jersey dog bite statutes below for your easy reference. Please feel free to browse my website at www.GrossmanJustice.com for more information concerning dog bite law in New Jersey.

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.

4:19-22.     Dog declared vicious by municipal court; conditions 

6.  a.  The municipal court shall declare the dog vicious if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the dog:

(1)  killed a person or caused serious bodily injury as defined in N.J.S.2C:11-1(b) to a person; or

(2)  has engaged in dog fighting activities as described in R.S.4:22-24 and R.S.4:22-26.

b.   A dog shall not be declared vicious for inflicting death or serious bodily injury as defined in N.J.S.2C:11-1(b) upon a person if the dog was provoked.  The municipality shall bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that the dog was not provoked.

c.   If the municipal court declares a dog to be vicious, and no appeal is made of this ruling pursuant to section 9 of P.L.1989, c.307 (C.4:19-25), the dog shall be destroyed in a humane and expeditious manner, except that no dog may be destroyed during the pendency of an appeal.

L.1989,c.307,s.6; amended 1994,c.187,s.3.

4:19-23  Dog declared potentially dangerous; conditions.

7. a. The municipal court shall declare a dog to be potentially dangerous if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the dog:

(1) caused bodily injury as defined in N.J.S.2C:11-1(a) to a person during an unprovoked attack, and poses a serious threat of bodily injury or death to a person, or

(2) severely injured or killed another domestic animal, and

(a) poses a threat of serious bodily injury or death to a person; or

(b) poses a threat of death to another domestic animal, or

(3) has been trained, tormented, badgered, baited or encouraged to engage in unprovoked attacks upon persons or domestic animals.

b. A dog shall not be declared potentially dangerous for:

(1) causing bodily injury as defined in N.J.S.2C:11-1(a) to a person if the dog was provoked, or

(2) severely injuring or killing a domestic animal if the domestic animal was the aggressor.

For the purposes of paragraph (1) of this subsection, the municipality shall bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that the dog was not provoked.

L.1989,c.307,s.7; amended 1994, c.187, s.4; 2002, c.24.

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