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Johnson v. Rehders

September 27, 2007

GEORGE JOHNSON, AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM OF MATTHEW S. JOHNSON, A MINOR; AND GEORGE JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER REHDERS, AN INDIVIDUAL; AND ROBIN REHDERS, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, L-521-04.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 10, 2007

Before Judges Lintner and Sabatino.

This appeal concerns the sufficiency of damages awarded by a jury to a minor in a dog bite case. On November 6, 2003, plaintiff,*fn1 Matthew S. Johnson, was visiting the home of defendants, Christopher and Robin Rehders, when he was bitten in the face by defendants' mixed breed dog "Rusty." At the time of the incident, Matthew was the age of fourteen or fifteen.*fn2

Matthew's father, George Johnson, was promptly notified about what had occurred. He drove to defendants' house and picked up Matthew, whose face was bleeding. Matthew's mother then took him to the emergency room of a local hospital. There, a plastic surgeon, Gregory Greco, M.D., attended to Matthew's facial wounds. The wounds consisted of two bite marks near Matthew's mouth and chin.

Dr. Greco closed the two wounds with fifty to sixty stitches. The procedure, which took approximately forty-five minutes, was complicated by difficulty in getting the injected anesthetic to sufficiently numb Matthew's face. Matthew testified that the procedure "hurt really bad." After several injections, the anesthesia finally took hold and the stitches were sewn.

During the next several days, Matthew felt acute pain in his face. He could not speak or eat normally and he did not leave his home.

Ten days later, on November 16, 2003, Dr. Greco removed the stitches. Matthew also found this procedure painful, but not as painful as the original suturing. He was advised that further medical attention to his scars would be needed after some time had passed. Matthew was also instructed to apply moisturizer and sunscreen to the scars, and to massage them periodically.

In June 2004 Matthew underwent a vascular laser procedure to attempt to reduce the persistent redness in and around his scars. The laser treatment also was painful and felt akin to the sensation of bee stings. The area turned purple for a few weeks and then slowly faded in color.

About a year after Rusty's attack, Matthew's scarring matured to its present condition. He remains with two curved scars near his mouth and chin, one that is about two centimeters in length, and the other that is about four and a half centimeters long.

In his de bene esse deposition, Dr. Greco opined that the scars caused by the dog bite were permanent in nature. He noted that, with more plastic surgery, the scarring might be abated by about fifty percent. The expected costs of such additional plastic surgery were estimated at $5000, plus facility and anesthesia fees of about $1600. Alternatively, Dr. Greco indicated that Matthew could have two dermabrasions performed to, in effect, sand down the scars, at a total cost of about $3000. To date, Matthew has not elected to have either of those procedures.

In his testimony, Matthew recounted that he continues to have physical sensations around his scars, that he has to apply sunscreen to them for outdoor activities, and that he feels the need to explain the cause of his scars in social settings.

Defendants acknowledged their responsibility for Rusty's dog bite under the strict liability statute, N.J.S.A. 4:19-16. The sole issue at trial was the measure of ...


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