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Pingaro v. Rossi

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff, a meter reader employee, went to Defendant’s house for the very first time to conduct her employment duties. When Plaintiff arrived, her beeper indicated that there were dogs on the premises. Plaintiff knocked on the door, rattled the gate, but no one responded. Plaintiff, thinking the area was completely empty, went through the gate and proceeded to the meter. While inside the gate, two dogs appeared. A German Shepard knocked Plaintiff to the ground and bit her limb and head. Plaintiff brought suit, and they jury ruled in her favor. Subsequently, a new trial was granted as to liability.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The owner of an injurious animal may not circumvent liability due to a lack of knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity when a statute imposes strict liability on the owner.

    Facts.

    Ellen Pingaro, Plaintiff, worked as a meter reader for the New Jersey Natural Gas Company (NJNG). While working, Plaintiff went toJoseph Rossi’s, Defendant,home to read the meter. This was the first time Plaintiffwent to Rossi’s residence. When Plaintiff arrived, her hand-held computer notified and provided Plaintiff with the following information: “[B]ad dog, knock.” Plaintiff knocked on the door, but no one answered. Then, Plaintiff rattled the gate to the backyard and yelled“gas company.” However, no one responded. Plaintiff believed that the property was empty and without any animals. Thus, Plaintiff opened the gate and proceeded to the meter. Immediately, two dogs appeared. One dog, a German shepherd, knocked Plaintiff down to the ground and bit her limbs and her head. Plaintiff was able to escape, but Plaintiff endured numerous injuries, which required her to obtain stitches, causing scarring, psychological harm, and time off work. Plaintiff brought suit against Rossi under to a New Jersey statute that imposes liability upon dog owners for dog bites. The jury found for Plaintiff, and a new trial was granted as to liability.

    Issue.

    Whether an owner of an injurious animal may not circumvent liability due to a lack of knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity when a statute imposes strict liability on the owner. 

    Held.

    Yes,an owner of an injurious animal may not circumvent liability due to a lack of knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity when a statute imposes strict liability on the owner. 

    Discussion.

    Pursuant to New Jersey law, the owner of an injurious animal may not circumvent liability due to a lack of knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity when a statute imposes strict liability on the owner. In this case, Plaintiff satisfied her burden by establishing that Defendant’s dog bit her when she was on Defendant’s property lawfully. Therefore, Plaintiff is not required to prove scienter because the Defendant’s state of mind is irrelevant to application of the statute. Thus, the lower court’s grant of a new trial is reversed.


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