If you or your child has been injured by an animal, your first thoughts are for your safety and obtaining immediate medical treatment. After that, there are many different complications involved with a dog bite that make the situation different than other kinds of personal injury. These things can make time seem to go by very quickly after the event, but it’s important that you don’t lose track: you must file a dog bite claim within the statutory time limit to recover the compensation you deserve.
New Jersey Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations for Dog Bite Claims
After being injured by a dog or other domestic animal, in most cases, you have two years from the date of the occurrence to file a lawsuit. There may be certain very limited situations that could reduce this time, however, so you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible following the injury. For example, if a dog bites you while you are delivering pizzas, you would be subject to the deadlines and notification requirements of the workers’ compensation laws; if a police dog bites you, you may have claims against a municipality or public entity with a much shorter limitations period.
An experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer can advise you about the deadlines that apply to your unique circumstances. A lawyer can also help you take the best steps to ensure you get the medical care you need and the compensation you deserve during your recovery. An attorney can help negotiate medical provider liens, manage workers’ compensation payments, and communicate with insurance company representatives as appropriate. All these things can help significantly reduce the stress of handling a dog bite claim and allow you to focus on healing.
How Can I Recover for New Jersey Dog Bite Injuries?
Many dog bites or scratches—even small ones—can lead to more serious health issues, including severe impairments, illness, and even death. Injuries can occur despite the best training and supervision. Even dogs that are not aggressive may nip or otherwise cause injuries when they are startled, frightened, or excited.
You may worry that reporting an animal bite will automatically result in the dog being “put down” or euthanized. This is not the case in New Jersey. When you report a dog bite claim animal control, the agency will examine the circumstances of your injury and any past incidents and determine what the appropriate action should be.
Because even friendly dogs can cause serious injuries, New Jersey’s dog bite statute is a “strict liability” statute. If someone is bitten by a dog while they are in a public place or lawfully on someone’s property, the dog’s owner is automatically liable for the injuries. Even if the owner used reasonable and appropriate care to attempt to restrain the animal or to protect or warn others, and even if the animal has never previously been aggressive or caused injury, this law ensures that the owner pays the victim’s damages.
You may also be able to obtain compensation from a dog owner’s home, property, or umbrella liability insurance policies. After filing a police report, you should obtain the contact information of the dog’s owner and the details about any insurance policies that may be in effect. You should also contact your own insurance providers to discuss whether there may be coverage for any expenses or losses.
What Kind of Compensation Can I Recover?
Dog bites can cause bruising, broken bones, severe lacerations, damage to vital organs, and more. These injuries can be especially catastrophic for children. Dog bite injuries can require extensive treatment to repair, often including one or more courses of plastic surgery and/or physical therapy. If there is a risk you or your child was exposed to rabies, you may have to undergo a series of expensive and painful shots to protect against this serious disease.
Besides physical injuries, long-term disabilities, and scars, it is very common for a dog bite victim to suffer from emotional distress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Compensation for all these types of economic and non-economic damages is recoverable under New Jersey personal injury laws. If a dog had previously bitten or attacked someone or shown a propensity towards violence, you may be able to recover additional compensation.
An attorney experienced in handling New Jersey dog bite claims can evaluate your case and advise you about your options. They will keep you apprised of the appropriate deadlines and timelines for your case, prepare the best possible presentation of your claim to an animal owner's insurance company, and pursue litigation against an owner if it is appropriate. Don’t wait! Consult with an attorney today.
 NJSA 4:19–16