Landlords in New Jersey should take special note of a court decision that found that a property owner could be held responsible for dog bites and other injuries caused by canines in some cases. In Hyun Na Seo v. Yozgadlian, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County entered a judgment of $3,000 plus court costs against landlords and defendants Varoujan and Victoria Yozgadlian for injuries that the plaintiff sustained after being bitten by a dog owned by another resident on the premises. While the ruling was overturned by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, the original case has been cited as precedent in other legal actions in the state and offers some insights into the responsibilities of landlords in New Jersey.
The Facts of the Case
According to the facts introduced in the original case, Hyun Na Seo was a tenant of Varoujan and Victoria Yozgadlian in the town of Little Ferry. The property in question was a two-family rental home. Along with the two rental units, a basement unit was occupied by handyman Dong Suk Yoon, who lived there free of charge in compensation for the performance of maintenance services for the property. Yoon owned a dog, which lived with him in the basement apartment.
The Yozgadlians rented an apartment to Hyun Na Seo on the understanding that there were to be no pets permitted on the property. When Hyun Na Seo discovered that Yoon had a dog, she made a complaint to the landlords, who then asked Yoon to remove the dog from the premises. The case alleges that Hyun Na Seo was subsequently bitten by Yoon’s dog on June 17, 1997, causing injury and resulting in the filing of a court case against the Yozgadlians and Yoon.
The judge ruled that no evidence had been presented to show that the Yozgadlians knew or should have known that Yoon’s dog was vicious. During the original court case, evidence was also admitted regarding Yoon’s illegal occupancy of the basement apartment, which was part of the basis for the appeal by the Yozgadlians. The Appellate Division found that, contrary to the previous court’s ruling, the Yozgadlians should not be held liable for the injuries incurred by Hyun Na Seo in the dog bite incident.
Determining Who Is Liable
According to New Jersey law, the owner of the dog that bites someone is liable for the damages to the person who was bitten. This is true regardless of whether the owner knew the dog was vicious. Likewise, a landlord is not generally to be held responsible for injuries caused by dogs belonging to their tenants unless the landlord both knows that the dog is living on the property and that it is vicious. In most cases, landlords cannot be held liable for dog bites that occur because a tenant is violating a no-pet policy established by the landlord. Working with a qualified New Jersey defense attorney is often the best course of action if you are facing legal action in our area.
If you have questions or concerns about your liability as a landlord, the Di Lauri & Hewitt Law Group can provide you with proven solutions that can help you feel more secure in managing your properties. We represent businesses, property owners and other individuals and deliver the right defense solutions for your needs. Call us today at 973-285-3220 to schedule an initial consultation with us. We are here to serve you.