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Court Puts Muzzle on Dog Bite Claim (NJ)

November 15, 2018

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Plaintiff, a certified dog groomer, had been grooming defendant’s Golden Retriever for three years. When defendants first brought their dog to plaintiff to be groomed, they provided notice that the dog was “a little problematic.” As such, plaintiff would place a muzzle on defendant’s dog during each grooming session. On June 6, 2013, plaintiff prepared to groom defendant’s dog just as she had done six or seven times prior. She placed a muzzle on the dog, and began to bathe him. There was no indication that he was agitated or aggressive. Suddenly, as plaintiff began to trim the hair around the dog’s rear, he pulled the muzzle off with his paw, whipped his head around, and sank his teeth into plaintiff’s left arm, causing ten puncture wounds. Plaintiff was hospitalized for six days and was out from work for approximately six weeks.

Following the close of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The court, applying the <u>Reynolds</u> case, <a href="">held in favor of the defendants</a>, ruling that an independent contractor who agrees to care for a dog could not assert a claim against a dog owner unless the dog owner purposefully or negligently conceals a particular known hazard from the independent contractor.  Here, the court was satisfied that defendants provided notice to the plaintiff that the dog tended to be problematic. Additionally, the court noted that plaintiff chose to muzzle the dog each time he was groomed due to the warnings from the defendant.

Plaintiff appealed the ruling of the trial court, arguing that it erroneously held that the groomer assumed the risk of the dog bite and that the judge did not consider that defendants purposefully concealed the dog’s violent propensity from the plaintiff. Additionally, on appeal, plaintiff’s argued that there was no expert report likening dog groomers to veterinarians with regard to assumption of the risk of being bitten by a dog. Plaintiff noted that veterinarians must be licensed, while dog groomers do not need a license.

The appellate court held that the principles in <u>Reynolds</u> are not confined to veterinarians. Instead, the appellate court ruled that <u>Reynolds</u> applies to <em>any</em> independent contractor who agrees to care for a dog.  Further, the court cited plaintiff’s deposition testimony wherein she stated that she was in the commercial dog-grooming business, and being bitten by dogs “goes with the territory.” As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision and plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.  Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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