According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are about 77 million dogs in the United States. That is a lot of dogs! If you were to go for a five-to-ten minute walk in your neighborhood, the chances are that you would see at least a dog and very likely come into close contact with one. The majority of the time the interactions are enjoyable – for you and the dog! However, this is not always the case. As car accidents become a likelihood due to the volume of vehicles on the road, the quantity of dogs and interactions with them can also lead to accidents.
The most common of these accidents is in the form of a dog bite, which will be the focus of this article.
Under the Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute, a dog’s owner may be found civilly liable for any damages caused, to person or property, by their dog. The statute applies when a dog causes personal injury or property damage. Even though it is referred to as the Dog Bite Statute, all injuries resulting from a dog are included, not just bites. For example, the statute would apply if a person was knocked down by a large breed dog and suffered a broken wrist. Notably, the statute adds an exception: the injured person must not have been trespassing or committing
another tort, or teasing or provoking the dog at the time.
Unfortunately, children are often the victims of dog bites and the statute accounts for that. The statute provides that a minor, which Massachusetts defines as any child under seven (7) years of age, is presumed to not be trespassing or teasing/tormenting the dog. This presumption is rebuttable, but the burden shifts to the defendant/dog owner to prove the child was abusing the dog before the attack.
In addition, Massachusetts is a “strict liability” state when it comes to dog bites. Under the strict liability doctrine, the dog’s owner is liable for the actions of the dog, even if they took reasonable measures to restrain or enclose the dog. For example, if a dog owner has a fenced in yard, yet the dog manages to escape and causes harm to a person, the owner is liable for that harm caused, even though they took affirmative measures to keep the dog fenced in.
In Massachusetts, dog bite victims also have the ability to file a negligence claim against the dog owner. Negligence claims for dog bites are rare because the dog bite statute is broad and covers all types of injuries. Negligence claims require you to prove a different set of facts, mainly that the owner/defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, and it is in your interest to work with an experienced attorney to decide what claim or claims works best for you.
It is beyond the scope of this article, but worth noting that in some circumstances, a dog owner may also be criminally liable. If a dog owner allowed or encouraged a dog to attack another person, the owner could be found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
Given the sheer volume and ubiquity of dogs, it is incumbent on dog owners to properly train their dogs. As you can see, Massachusetts is a plaintiff-friendly state when it comes to dog bite law. This means it will be much harder for the defendant/dog owner to “win” a lawsuit. The vast majority of dogs who bite are neglected, malnourished, or abused. If a dog, by way of bite or another related injury, injures you, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations to bring a legal claim against a dog owner for a dog bite is three (3) years from the date of the initial injury, or dog bite. This may seem like a long time, but it moves quickly, especially if you require a lengthy time-period to recover from your injuries. If you are injured, it makes sense to explore your options with an experienced dog bite attorney.