If my dog was hit by a car, are we liable for his car damages even though he was driving over the speed limit?

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If my dog was hit by a car, are we liable for his car damages even though he was driving over the speed limit?

The other day my dog got out of the house and went onto my street. My mom was trying to catch my dog and a car hit him. My street is a quiet residential street on a dead end with a speed limit of 15 mph. The driver was speeding. He did not report the incident to the police. The next day he came to my house and asked for damage to his car. He said his bumper has a dent. If he was going the speed limit of 15 mph, he would have had sufficient time to stop and it wouldn’t cause a dent in his bumper unless it was already faulty.

Asked on February 19, 2016 under Accident Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You are not automatically liable, but could possibly be: it depends on the balance of fault. If your dog go out of the house because someone was careless in making sure he did not get out (e.g. left a door open, or even unsecured so the dog could push it open), the you are at fault in allowing the escape; if he got out because of something that wasn't your fault (e.g. a lock or latch broke and he pushed the door open), you would not be liable. If you were at fault/liable, you could owe him money for his damage.
However, if you are liable, the question becomes how careless or negligent was the driver? If he was going so fast as to not be able to stop in time, or was driving DUI or distractedly (e.g. on phone or texting), then his own fault would reduce, or possibly even cancel out, your fault and what you would  otherwise have to pay, depending on how the degree of his fault, and its contribution to the accident compares to the degree of your fault and its contribution; to oversimplify, you basically "weigh" or balance the respective faults.
On word of car commentatry: don't overestimate the strength of bumpers. Modern bumpers are designed to dent/crack/etc. *very* easily--the idea is that in crumpling, they absorb the impact and spare the driver & passengers. No thought is put in their design to keeping the bumper itself from breaking. Last winter, at roughly 5 mph, as pulling into a driveway, the corner of my bumper clipped a bank of hard snow (but still snow, not ice) and completely shattered; that's how little impact is needed to damage or destroy them.


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