This summer, we had animal-attack cases pending in courts in Virginia, New Jersey, and Connecticut. At trial in a dog-attack case in New Jersey, we were able to convince the trial judge to allow evidence of prior and subsequent attacks on others in the neighborhood, despite strict liability statute and case law that said such evidence is not allowed. The defense lawyers hired by the insurance company would not admit liability, even in the face of the New Jersey Statute (N.J.S.A. 4:19-16) that says: “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.”
We went to court three times on pretrial motions in order to present the best possible case for our client, a detective with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Sex Crimes Unit. She was attacked by a neighbor’s dog. Our client was sitting on her front stoop, saw the defendant pull into the driveway, and walked over to help the defendant with groceries. While she was in front of the defendant’s house, the defendant’s dog came out of the door and dropped his toy down onto the stairs leading up to the house. When the plaintiff reached down to get the toy, the dog attacked. The dog stood on her and continued to bite her arm until he was pulled off. There were bruises on her thighs where the animal was trying to use her own body as leverage to get a better grip with its jaws and teeth. The plaintiff had medical treatment, medical bills, lost wages, and had a long scar on her right forearm. She also had a 5 percent permanency rating, and continued pain and discomfort in her shooting arm when practicing with her personal and service weapons. Future plastic surgery and scar revision meant additional time loss from work.
After she was attacked, the plaintiff learned that this dog had attacked an elderly neighbor on the street. After her attack, this same dog bit the postman on the corner of her street. We represented the postman in his case, which settled prior to the trial of the police officer’s case. This dog, a Labrador mix, had three known attacks on three different individuals.
The defendant’s lawyers alleged that the plaintiff was not lawfully on the property, that there was no invitation, and that the defendant had waved off and told the plaintiff not to come over. Furthermore, the defendant maintained that the plaintiff caused the attack by grabbing the dog’s toy and looking the dog in the eye, and that she was contributorily negligent, guilty of assumption of the risk (she knew she would get bitten), and her damages for future care were speculative.
As the result of several pretrial motions, the judge ruled that the dog’s prior and subsequent attacks could be introduced at trial; the police officer who investigated the first and second attacks and the postman/victim of the third attack could both testify at trial. The end result was $112,200 for our client in a case in which the only offer prior to trial was $25,000.
If you or someone you know was severely injured in a dog attack, please give us a call (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd.