If your child has been injured by an animal, you must take action quickly—both to protect your child’s health and to protect your legal rights. Many animal bites or scratches—even small ones—can result in health risks, including severe impairments, illness, and even death. Knowing what to do in such a situation can help you respond calmly and effectively.
Take Immediate Action
Although it’s crucial to properly supervise your child and teach them to treat animals with care, injuries can occur even in the best of situations. It’s a myth that only certain breeds of dogs or individual dogs that are known to be aggressive will bite. Even dogs that are usually friendly can bite, nip, or otherwise cause injuries to children, who may startle or frighten an animal. If your child suffers an injury, get appropriate medical care immediately. For small bites and scratches, take appropriate first aid measures to clean the area and prevent infection. For more serious injuries, see a doctor immediately or call emergency medical services.
It’s a good idea to take pictures and/or video recordings of your child’s injuries and, if possible and appropriate, of the dog in question. Obtain the contact information of its owner and the details about any homeowners’ other insurance policies that may be in effect. You may wish to contact your own insurer to discuss whether there may be coverage for any expenses.
Identify the Dog and Its Vaccination Status
If you know the owner of the dog, you should make sure that the animal is up to date on its rabies vaccinations. New Jersey state law requires current rabies vaccinations for all dogs. A dog’s first rabies vaccine is good for one year; each vaccine after that is good for three years.
If your child has been seriously injured, call 911 or animal control to report the incident.
This is vital both to preserve public safety and to ensure that you are able to pursue the appropriate recovery for your child’s injuries. The State’s animal control division will begin an investigation to determine what the appropriate action should be for the animal. It also monitors whether animals are suspected of carrying diseases such as rabies and can recommend appropriate action and/or treatment. If you don’t know the owner of the dog, it will be able to conduct an investigation into its identity and help you determine whether your child may be at risk.
New Jersey’s Liability Laws for Dog Bites
New Jersey’s dog bite statute is a “strict liability” statute. This means that if a dog bites someone, its owner is responsible for any and all injuries that directly result from the bite. If your child 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 these injuries. Even if the owner used reasonable care to restrain the animal or to protect or warn others, and even if the animal has never previously been violent or caused injury, the law ensures that the owner is responsible for paying the victim’s damages.
Recovering Damages for Your Child’s Injuries
A dog bite can cause bruising, broken bones, severe lacerations, damage to vital organs, and more. These injuries can be especially significant for children. Often, dog bite injuries require extensive treatment to repair, possibly including plastic surgery and/or physical therapy. If there is a risk your child was exposed to rabies, they may have to undergo an expensive and painful series of shots to protect against transmission of this serious disease. In addition to physical injuries, long-term disabilities, and scars, your child may suffer from emotional distress or post-traumatic stress (PTSD). All of these types of damages are all recoverable under New Jersey personal injury law.
If a dog’s owner knew it would attack or if it has previously bitten or attacked someone, this may increase the compensation you can pursue. You should consult an attorney experienced in handling animal attack claims to evaluate your case. They can explore the various factors that determine how your particular injuries can be most appropriately compensated and prepare the best possible presentation of your claim to an animal owner's insurance company or pursue litigation.
What About the Dog?
You might worry that reporting the bite will result in the animal being euthanized (“put down”), especially if you know the animal or its owners. In New Jersey, an animal will be ordered to be euthanized only if an investigation by animal control results in a determination that this is the best course of action given the circumstances. An example of when the agency might make this determination is if the animal exhibits a pattern of viciousness. The agency will examine the circumstances of your child’s injury and any past incidents and determine what the appropriate action should be.
If your child has been injured by a dog bite or other kind of animal attack, you must file any lawsuit within two years of the occurrence to retain your rights to compensation. An experienced New Jersey animal attack lawyer can assist you in initiating and investigating your case and in recovering fair compensation for your injuries. For more information about animal attacks and other personal injury cases, subscribe to our blog.
 NJSA 4:19-16