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Can I be sued if my dog bites an intruder?

Animals have few rights in New Jersey, but they do have some. If your dog has bitten someone, you may fear for the safety of your companion or the thickness of your wallet. The two of you may be not be legally at fault in certain circumstances.

When it comes to dog bites, New Jersey law puts strict liability on the owner, meaning that the owner is responsible for the dog “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” Without having to prove intent, most plaintiffs argue that the owner’s negligence led to the attack. State legal code puts the burden of proof on the defendant to prove otherwise.

To combat a claim of negligence resulting in a dog bite, the defendant has to show that the plaintiff was either trespassing at the time or that he or she knowingly stepped in the way of danger. The law calls this “unreasonable and voluntary exposure to a known risk.”

Provoked attacks

This exposure could be the result of wittingly trespassing at the home of an aggressive dog, or it could be by inciting violence from the dog—perhaps by attacking or provoking. If your dog attacked someone in self defense, New Jersey law protects the dog; if a court finds otherwise, a judge may declare him or her dangerous, or even order euthanasia.


If the plaintiff was trespassing, you may have another strong defense. Lawsuits for dog bites require the plaintiff to have been either on public property or legally allowed on the private property where the incident occurred. This means that if it happened on your land, you could contend that the plaintiff was there without permission.