Dog Bite Liability: Who’s Responsible?

Dog bites result in thousands of injuries in the United States on a yearly basis. Dog bite injuries are serious and can include permanent scarring, psychological damage and even death. Liability for these injuries can be significant. Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover injuries inflicted by the homeowner’s dog. In most states under the common law, dogs are allowed “one free bite.” After the first bite, the dog owner is required to take reasonable steps to ensure that his dog does not injure others. Courts created liability laws for breeds of dogs that are determined “inherently vicious”. In these cases, a dog owner could be held liable for not taking reasonable steps to protect the public from the dog’s bite. Some breeds that meet this criterion include Rottweilers, Pit bulls, Dobermans and the like. In more recent years, many cities have enacted “leash laws.” Under these ordinances, all dogs “off the leash” are considered “inherently vicious”. If a person is attacked and injured by a dog running free in a leash law jurisdiction, even if the dog never has bitten anyone and is not an inherently vicious breed, the dog owner may still be liable. Many states, including New Jersey, have also passed laws that hold an owner liable if the dog bites someone on the owner’s property (or chased from the owner’s property) if that person had a right to be on the owner’s property (i.e. a guest, homeowner’s kids, a postal worker, etc). New York does not have the same liability stature; however, it currently remains a ‘one-bite’ state (animal does not require the existence of a prior bite). Given the millions of dogs in the United States today, it clear we are a dog loving country; however, dogs can and do cause grievous injuries. Dog owners must take responsible precautions to protect members of the public from their pets. Source: “Dog Bites: Who Is Responsible?” The Safety Report Summer 2010: 13.

Dear Friends and Clients,

In furtherance of our firm’s culture of commitment to always act with compassion, concern and commitment to our clients, community and colleagues, we have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligations while prioritizing health, wellness and safety of all we can.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced changes to many lives and businesses in our communities, and around the world. We, much like our neighbors and friends, have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligation to our clients, while also prioritizing the health, wellness and safety of our employees.

Until further notice, our offices will be closed to the public to encourage social distancing and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our team is still hard at work, many from home, and you may still call, email, live chat or video conference us if you or a loved one is seeking legal assistance. As the first law firm to offer our clients secure online access to their case file more than a decade ago, we have always been believers in using technology to make life easier and information more accessible. In these present times it has been a smooth transition for us to continue to offer our clients the same seamless and thorough service that you deserve and are accustomed to.

This pandemic is unlike anything any of us have faced in our lifetimes, and while we can continue to emotionally support one another through it all, staying home and keeping your distance is vital to the health and wellness of our communities. It does not feel good to break routines, cancel events and retreat from our normal, day-to-day socializing, but let us remember that, in times of strife, prior generations were asked to go to war and we are simply being asked to stay home. Your isolation equals more lives saved, and more time for medical providers to prepare for the treatment of patients battling COVID-19.

When the dust settles, we will join together with a greater appreciation for our lives, local businesses, loved ones and health. Until then, we will continue to offer guidance from a safe distance.

Very truly yours,

Andrew G. Finkelstein and the staff of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP