The current estimate is that each year, 4.5 million people are bitten by a dog in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in five people bitten by a dog require medical attention. Being bitten by a dog can be very serious. Whether the legal remedy for a dog bite in the workplace is a workers’ compensation claim is a decision that should be made in consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
New Jersey has a strict liability law for dog bites outside the workplace. But what about one in the workplace? Is a worker limited to a workers’ compensation claim? Generally, yes. However, often there are uncertainties for an experienced and skilled lawyer to wade through. The goal is to provide an injured employee with the knowledge and tools to achieve the highest level of recourse for an injury in the workplace.
Situations of a Dog Biting a Worker
One situation is when the workplace is outdoors, such as a customer’s yard. Landscapers are frequently in a customer’s yard or around their home. These workers are considered invitees, meaning their employer has permission to do the work. However, permission does not always guarantee the safety of the worker. Dogs can be defensive about people they do not recognize. This can cause an unfortunate interaction resulting in a dog bite.
Another scenario is when workers visit inside a customer’s home. For example, plumbers, electricians, and other workers enter a customer’s home by request or arrangement by their employer. Again, a dog can become agitated, resulting in an injurious interaction with the unsuspecting worker.
Sometimes a business has guard dogs for security. These dogs may be off the leash or chain while workers share the workplace. Guard dogs are not always trained, and common breeds used for security can be aggressive and even vicious. Vicious dogs in the workplace can raise other issues, as discussed later.
Lastly, an incident can occur when an employee brings their dog to the workplace and it has an interaction with a coworker.
Although a rare occurrence now, dogs can be unvaccinated for rabies, and a bite by a rabid dog presents its own serious medical issues.
These examples are not all the possibilities. Each instance of a worker bitten by a dog has its own particular facts that can pose a legal issue that only a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer can investigate to help the injured worker.
Workers’ Compensation Relief
Workers’ compensation benefits for a dog bite include the following:
- Costs of medical treatment
- Permanent disability compensation
- Lost wages compensation
- Compensation for pain and suffering
Workers’ compensation coverage is the usual remedy for the injured worker. But like all rules, there are exceptions.
To begin with, to qualify for workers’ compensation coverage for a dog bite, the worker must satisfy the following requirements:
- It has to be in a workplace. The workplace is where workers assemble to perform their jobs. Workplaces can be indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both. It can be off site, such as at customer offices or homes.
- New Jersey requires the employer to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage. The instance of the postal worker bitten by a dog would not qualify because federal employees have their own protections.
- The employer’s workers’ compensation insurance has to be up to date.
- The dog bite must occur during the worker’s employment hours.
If the employer has an employee handbook, the worker should ask for it and read it. It may define the workplace, employees’ working hours, and off-site work, such as for landscapers or plumbers.
It is important to note that there are time limits involved in a workers’ compensation claim. A worker has 90 days from the dog bite to report the injury to the employer. The worker should keep copies of all notices, reports, and other documentation. If seriously injured, the worker should seek immediate medical attention.
Dog bites can result in scars, broken bones, infections, stress and anxiety, and other issues. Immediate medical care will mitigate the healing period and is best for all concerned. The employer should be notified as soon as possible.
On receiving the worker’s notice of injury, the employer has 21 days to file a formal report with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation. It is strongly recommended that the worker contact a workers’ compensation lawyer because the lawyer can monitor the employer’s or the insurance company’s claim investigation. There are other formal proceedings, such as a motion for temporary benefits, involving a claim that the lawyer can present.
Because dog bite injuries can involve serious diseases, the doctor treating a dog bite has to file a report to the local health department. After the report is filed, the animal is removed to an animal shelter for a 10-day quarantine. If the dog shows signs of rabies, shots are given to the victim in a needed course of treatment.
Importantly, in the rare instance in which the employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, the injured employee may have another remedy. If the lack of insurance is caused by an intentional act by the employer, the worker may sue for damages. If there is no way to sue the employer, the employee may still be able to join the New Jersey Uninsured Employers Fund to claim medical benefits and temporary disability.
Another Potential Remedy
Normally, workers’ compensation for a dog bite in the workplace covers medical and wage and disability benefits for the employee. However, in limited situations, an employee bitten by a dog in the workplace may have the right to sue the employer.
Only a qualified and experienced lawyer can complete the necessary steps for this exception. They include a fact investigation, a review of the applicable law including court decisions, and an application of the facts to the law. This review includes recent decisions about insurance companies carving out coverage for intentional torts in their policies.
Although workers’ compensation is an insurance program, with the employer providing the required insurance benefiting the employees exclusively, there may be other parties liable for damages. The dog owner may have insurance, such as a homeowner’s policy. Or the owner may be financially positioned to pay a court judgment.
In New Jersey, dog owners are strictly liable for bites by their dog on premises owned or controlled by them. This may or may not apply to the injured employee. A qualified and experienced lawyer can navigate the legalities to help the injured employee.
In unique cases, when the employer intentionally causes the injury in the workplace with substantial certainty of injury, the injured employee can sue the employer for damages outside of workers’ compensation. In court, these facts need to be proved:
- The employer knew its actions are substantially certain to cause the injury.
- The injury is outside of the nature of the workplace environment.
Also, the employer’s act must be outside the legislative scope of workers’ compensation coverage.
Usually, the key issue is proving the employer created a clear safety issue, such as removing a machine safety guard on purpose. This claim is one that requires the assistance of a qualified and experienced lawyer.
If an lawyer is successful in suing outside of workers’ compensation coverage, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company can try to lien a recovery to take back the costs of workers’ compensation already paid out to the injured employee.
Burlington County Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP, Advocate for Victims Hurt at Work
If you were injured while performing the duties of your job, reach out to the Burlington county workers’ compensation lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP. Our legal team wants to ensure that any person injured in an on-the-job accident receives all the compensation for which they are entitled under the law. Workers’ compensation is our focus. Call us today at 856-761-3773 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients in Camden, Cinnaminson, Delran, Maple Shade, Pennsauken, and throughout South Jersey