All Bark, No Bite (NJ)

In Christen v. Wyka, New Jersey’s Appellate Court recently dealt with the issue of whether the owner of a barking dog that startles a passerby can be held liable for any resulting injury.  Christen was walking past Wyka’s house when his barking dogs startled her.  In response, she veered to her right and fell in a grassy area next to the sidewalk.  Christen acknowledged that there was no defect in the sidewalk that contributed to her fall.  Although Wyka’s dogs were kept in a fenced in yard with a “Beware of Dog” sign on the fence, Christen argued that Wyka was liable for her injuries because he failed to control his dogs and allowed them to jump on the fence and bark.  The court disagreed, noting that the dogs did not have a violent propensity and did not make contact with Christen.  The court further noted that a barking dog is one of many varieties of events that could startle a passerby, such as a shrieking toddler or sudden loud music from a home. Ultimately, the Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss Christen’s complaint.

Special thanks to Heather Aquino-Obregon for her contributions to this post.  For more information, please contact Nicole Y. Brown at nbrown@wcmlaw.com.