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Common Law Dog Bite Liability Can Reach Beyond the Dog Owner to A “Keeper”

By on January 12, 2018 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Jeanette Carabello and her husband went outside one winter morning to shovel snow. As she was shoveling, a dog owned by their neighbor’s grandson and residing at their neighbor’s home, ran up to her and bit her on the leg. Rather than suing the grandson, the owner of the dog, the plaintiff sued the neighbor (Carpenter) under a claim for common law negligence. In Carabello v. Carpenter, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2203 (App. Div. Sept. 5, 2017), the plaintiff claimed the neighbor should be liable for her injuries because the neighbor knew the dog had vicious propensities and there was a failure to control the animal.

After discovery, the neighbor filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that because she did not own the dog, and her grandson was only staying temporarily with her, she could not be liable for the dog’s behavior and was not at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries.

However, the plaintiff presented facts pertaining to the dog’s history of attacking other dogs and people. A few months before the incident, the plaintiff was having a party and a friend’s small child was trying to pet the dog through the fence and she said the dog “was just trying to get her.” Another time the dog had gotten into her yard and jumped on her and was “smelling her all over,” when he was removed by the neighbor’s grandson. She further stated that that dog and the grandson’s other dogs were regularly seen running through the neighborhood unleased.

Furthermore, the plaintiff recalled the neighbor screaming at her grandson that he needed to get rid of the dogs and that he does not take care of the dogs the right way. She testified that while the neighbor was not home very often, the grandson was with them all of the time. The plaintiff further recalled that the neighbor had fed the dogs and let them out to relieve themselves on a regular basis.

Strict liability under N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, wherein an owner will be liable for a dog bite notwithstanding any knowledge of the dog’s propensity for violence, only applies to the owner of a dog that bit the plaintiff. However, under a claim for common law negligence, a “harborer” or “keeper” of the dog may be liable in determining whether that person knew of the dog’s vicious propensities and had a failure to control the animal.

Though the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, the Appellate Division reversed this dismissal. It found that the neighbor cared for the dogs on a regular basis when the grandson was not home and the dogs were often seen running through the neighborhood. The Court also held that the neighbor found the circumstances with the dogs to be sufficiently unsatisfactory to demand the grandson get rid of the dogs. In so finding and permitting the plaintiff to sustain its claim for common law negligence, the court held that the neighbor was a “harborer” of the dogs and there was an issue of fact as to whether the defendant had knowledge of the dog’s propensity for violence.


About the Author

About the Author:

Mr. Holmgren is a shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Litigation Department, focusing his practice in general defense litigation throughout the federal and state courts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a concentration on premises liability, products liability, construction, estates, employment and professional malpractice. His clients include large and small business owners, municipalities and governmental entities, manufacturers, and their insurers.


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