On November 2, 2018, a New Jersey Appellate Panel upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss an injured dog groomer’s lawsuit against the owner of the dog who bit her.
Generally, in New Jersey, a dog owner is strictly liable if her dog bites someone. This law is set by the legislature when it passed the “dog bite statute” N.J.S.A. 4:19-16. According to the “dog bite statute” a dog owner is liable even if the owner didn’t know the dog was vicious. This means in order to recover, a plaintiff must only prove that the defendant owned the dog, that the dog bit the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff was in a public place or lawfully on the defendant’s property.
However, in an unpublished decision released Friday, Cichoski v. Turick, the Appellate Division declined to offer the benefits of the “dog bite statute” to an injured dog groomer. There, the plaintiff was a dog groomer in Long Branch who agreed to bathe a golden retriever. Back in 2011, when the dog was first brought into the groomer’s business, the dog’s owner told the plaintiff that the golden retriever “was a little problematic,” and the dog was placed in a muzzle every time he was groomed. However, during its last visit to the groomer, while the groomer was working on trimming the hair on the back of the dog, the golden retriever pulled out of its muzzle and bit the groomer on her arm and shook it.
In declining to apply the “dog bite statute” to the plaintiff’s case, the Appellate Division relied upon Reynolds v. Lanaster County Prison, 325 N.J. Super. 298 (App. Div. 1999), where it was held that an independent contractor who agrees to care for a dog could not assert a claim against a dog owner unless the dog owner purposely or negligently conceals the viciousness of the dog. The Appellate Division found that because the defendant dog owner placed Cichoski on notice that her dog might bite while being groomed, and that plaintiff had even chosen to muzzle the dog, she had been provided sufficient notice such that the dog bite statute did not apply. Accordingly, the Appellate Court found the trial judge properly granted the defendant dog owner’s motion for summary judgment and upheld the decision to dismiss the case.