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Increase in number of dog bites typical during spring

With the weather warming up, New Jersey pet owners and others may want to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. While doing so can be both healthy and fun for people and pets alike, it also can increase the chances of a dog bite.

According to one expert, dog bite injuries tend to increase in the spring, perhaps because people are more likely to let their pets walk or stay outdoors. Moreover, potential bite victims, such as pedestrians and bicyclists, are out and about more often as well.

What happens to people who unfortunately get bitten depends on the state in which the bite occurs. In neighboring Pennsylvania, a state where Garden State residents often find themselves, the so-called "first bite" rule applies. In states that apply this rule, a victim may receive compensation for out-of-pocket costs like medical expenses, but the victim is ordinarily not able to collect other damages such as pain and suffering. This is true so long as the dog has not bitten somebody on a previous occasion, and the bite is not considered severe.

New Jersey, however, employs what some call a "strict liability" rule. Under the strict liability rule, a negligent pet owner must compensate the victim if his or her dog bites. This is true even when the dog has never bitten anybody before. New Jersey's stance on strict liability is more likely to benefit injured people who deserve compensation for their loss. More lax approaches beg the question of why owners of aggressive animals should in effect get one free pass before having to compensate people for the full extent of their losses.

In all likelihood, pet owners know their animals best, and they are the ones in the best position to judge whether or not their dog is capable of biting somebody. Even if their animal is unlikely to bite, owners must still obey leash laws and other applicable rules in their area. From a plaintiff's perspective, it makes sense to hold owners responsible for their dog's behavior in all cases, not just after the dog has already hurt somebody else.

Source: CBS Philly, "Know your rights if you get bit or your dog bites," Michelle Durham, April 7, 2013

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