Union County Dog Bite Lawyer
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The law firm of Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, LLC represents clients in personal injury matters involving dog bites and dog attacks in Union County and throughout New Jersey. Our trial attorneys have many years of experience handling dog bite and dog attack cases. Jon M. Bramnick is a New Jersey “Super Lawyer” with over 30 years of experience.
In New Jersey, dog attacks, dog knock-downs, and/or dog bites are not tolerated. New Jersey places an emphasis on holding a dog owner responsible for injuries caused by his or her pet. For instance, in Union County, New Jersey, the owner of a dog who attacks or bites another person may be strictly liable for the injuries caused by the dog attack or dog bite regardless of whether the owner knew of the dog’s viciousness. N.J.S.A. § 4:19-16.
Dog bite and dog attack cases arising out of Union County, New Jersey frequently involve landlords and their tenants. The courts have recently addressed two cases involving dog bites and dog attacks in a landlord-tenant setting.
In Donaldson v. Lipinski, a child was playing outside of an apartment complex when a pit bull, owned by a tenant of the complex, attacked the child causing severe and permanent injuries. Donaldson v. Lipinski, No. A-5361-07T3 (N.J.Super.A.D. Apr 28, 2009). The issue was whether the landlord could be held liable for the dog attack. Id. Typically, “a landlord owes a duty to his tenant or his tenant’s invitees, to prevent injury from his tenant’s dog if he is aware of the presence of the animal on the property and is also aware of its vicious propensities.” Hyun Na Seo v. Yozgadlian, 320 N.J. Super. 68(App.Div.1999). The plaintiff argued that the court in Hyun Na Seo did not extend the responsibilities of the landlord far enough because a landlord has a duty to make inspections and inquiries necessary to maintain the common areas of the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Donaldson v. Lipinski, No. A-5361-07T3, slip op. at 2 (N.J.Super.A.D. Apr 28, 2009). Furthermore, the plaintiff argued, because the tenant/dog owner told police she was aware of her dog’s viciousness, had the landlords made an inquiry into the dog’s nature, the tenant would have also made the landlords aware of the animal’s viciousness. Id.
The court held that “a landlord’s duty to make reasonable inspections for the safety of persons in the common areas does not require action to ascertain whether a particular tenant’s pet is abnormally vicious unless and until there is some manifestation of behavior that a reasonable landlord would recognize as posing a danger to persons in areas under the landlord’s control. ” Donaldson, slip op. at 2 (N.J.Super.A.D. Apr 28, 2009). The court reasoned that “the Legislature has not acted to require landlords to reject or evict any tenant who has a dog.” Id. at 3. Further, “the Legislature has considered the question of tenants’ pets and landlords’ responsibility it has opted in favor of permitting tenants to have pets not prohibited by state or local law.” Id.
In Zukowitz v. Halperin, another dog bite case involving a landlord and tenant, the court found that the landlord could be held liable. Zukowitz v. Halperin, 360 N.J.Super. 69, 821 A.2d 527 (2003). In Zukowitz, the plaintiff-tenant knocked at the door of her superintendent’s apartment, located in the basement of her apartment complex, t o report a leak. Id. at 71. When the door to the superintendant’s apartment opened, the superintendant’s dog attacked the tenant. Id. at 72. The pertinent issues in the case included: (1) whether a landlord can be held directly liable under New Jersey’s strict liability statute and/or the common law and (2) whether the landlord can be held vicariously liable under the common law doctrine of Respondent Superior. Id.
The court held that the landlord could not be held liable under New Jersey’s strict liability statute, N.J.S.A. § 4:19-16, because the landlord was not the owner of the dog. Zukowitz, 360 N.J.Super. at 73. Furthermore, the landlord was not directly liable under common law principles because the landlord had no knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities. Id. at 75. However, the court found that the landlord could be held vicariously liable under the doctrine of Respondent Superior, which holds an employer responsible for the negligence of its employees who are acting within the scope of employment. Id. See also Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 771, 563 A.2d 31 (1989). The court reasoned, “there can be no dispute that the superintendents were acting within the scope of their employment when they accepted tenant complaints, including [the plaintiff’s] reported leak, at the door to their basement apartment.” Id. Further, “whether [the superintendants] were negligent in allowing their dog to escape through the apartment door, under all the circumstances, is plainly a jury question.” Id.
Based on the above, whether a landlord can be held liable in a dog bite or dog attack case is largely contingent upon the circumstances. Ownership, knowledge of the dog’s viciousness, and the relationship between a dog’s owner and the landlord are all important issues that many times must be resolved prior to trial. If you have been injured due to a dog bite or dog attack, we may be able to possibly assist you with your case. For a free consultation, you can contact us 24 hours a day at 908.322.7000.