What is the one-bite rule?

The New Jersey one-bite rule clearly sets up who could be responsible for damages after an animal attack as a way to better protect the victim.

When a person gets bit by a dog, cat or any animal, is there any legal recourse available? Under the old common law "one-bite rule," it was difficult or impossible for some victims to collect. However, in New Jersey and many states, this has been replaced by strict liability statutes.

Liability of a dog owner

In some states, a dog's viciousness has to be proven before the owner is liable for any damages. This usually means that the dog must make multiple attacks before the owner would be on the hook. This is one known as "one free bite" — the first time a dog attacks, the owner is not necessarily liable. However, the doctrine of strict liability establishes the legal responsibility of a dog owner — even on the first bite.

Under the one-bite rule, the owner is not held responsible for any damages. Under strict liability, so long as the victim was bit while lawfully on the owner's private property (or on public property), he or she is entitled to pursue injury compensation.

Liability of a landlord

New Jersey courts have determinedthat the animal's owner is not the only party who could be held responsible for a dog, cat or animal attack. A landlord or landowner could also shoulder some of the blame. For example, if a landlord knowingly lets a resident keep a dangerous animal on the property without warning the other residents, he or she may be liable for a portion of the damages.

Similarly, if a building owner hires someone to work on or in the building, he or she must make sure it is safe. This includes controlling any potentially vicious animals or at least warning the worker. Only by properly disclosing the existence of the dangerous animal could the landlord reduce his or her liability.

Protection for the victim

Finally, the strict liability laws make sure the victim of an animal attack is protected. According to the State of New Jersey's Department of Health, an animal attack could result in the contraction of rabies. When an animal attacks a person, that animal can be confined for at least 10 days as a precaution against a rabies infection, depending on the local board of health.

This potentially deadly disease has to be treated promptly for the best results, but without victim protection that might not happen. When a victim feels there is no help after an animal attack — as in states with the one-bite rule — he or she may not be inclined to go to the doctor because of the ensuing medical bills.

The strict liability rule makes it easier for a victim to be compensated, which makes it more likely that he or she will seek the proper medical help. This, in turn, makes it more likely that the attacking animal will be quarantined and properly observed.

Dog bite victims in New Jersey have access to compensation. Yet even with clear-cut laws, it may be advisable to seek the help of an attorney who is familiar with animal-bite cases. There are defenses to a dog bite claim, such as trespassing and provocation, and a lawyer knows how to maximize monetary damages.