DOG BITE OF VETERINARIAN’S EMPLOYEE

April 24, 2015 by Craig A. Squitieri ·

In the unreported Appellate Division opinion of Sanders v. Johnson, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that when a dog bites a veterinarian's employee while the dog was still under the "care, custody, and control" of its owner, the owner is still strictly liable for the damages sustained by the victim.

In New Jersey, in order to be compensated from a dog owner as a result of its dog biting another person, that person must prove that: (1) the defendant is the owner of the dog; (2) the dog bit the plaintiff, and (3) the plaintiff was either bitten in a public place, or lawfully present in a private place. DeRobertis v. Randazzo, 94 N.J. 144, 151 (1983). As long as all three requirements have been met, the owner of the dog will be strictly liable to the victim for damages sustained as a result of the dog bite regardless if the dog has ever bitten a person previously. There is an exception to this rule which is known as the "independent contractor exception." In essence, if a third party has agreed to care for a dog and is bitten in the course of caring for the dog, there will be no liability so long as the dog is no longer under the "care, custody, and control" of its owner. In Sanders, the owner was carrying their dog "Rock" into the veterinarian's office. While the owner was exclusively carrying "Rock" the dog, the dog bit the veterinarian's employee.

The court held that "Rock bit plaintiff before control of the dog was transferred to the Hospital and before the Hospital rendered any treatment. Defendant decided not to wait for plaintiff's help to carry Rock into the Hospital. Instead, he elected to try and carry Rock by himself, thus retaining complete and exclusive control of the dog. Moreover, defendant's attempt to carry Rock alone precipitated the bite. As defendant was solely in control of Rock, and as plaintiff was not providing any care or treatment to Rock when the bite occurred, we discern no basis to exclude plaintiff from the protection of the statute."