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Bit By a Dog In Massachusetts?

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Mar 01, 2014 | 0 Comments

Snarling dog
Although a few breeds are responsible for a high percentage of dog bites, any dog could become aggressive.

Every year, dogs bite more than 4.5 million people, with approximately 885,000 requiring medical attention.  These dog bite injury statistics provided by the US Center of  Disease Control (CDC) show that over 27,000 people required reconstructive surgery as a result of their dog bite injuries, and that just about half of the victims every year are children.  In Massachusetts, statistics from hospital data show that children under the age of 14 are the most frequent victims of dog attacks requiring a trip to the hospital.

Of course most dogs bring a lot of happiness to people and are not vicious,  but any dog is capable of aggression in certain circumstances.

What if You're Bit By a Dog?

The Massachusetts dog bite statute is found in Mass Gen Laws. c. 140 section 155.  As far as statutes go, this one is pretty brief, so here it is:

Section 155. If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, is under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action.

Interestingly, this law has been around for about two hundred years, and has not been significantly altered since 1812.   The Massachusetts dog bite law is a strict liability statute, meaning liability under the statute for dog owners is without fault. Civil claims under this law are a separate cause of action than a negligence claim. This statute benefits a plaintiff, or the victim of a dog bite.

Historically under common law, a dog owner was not liable for any injuries the animal caused unless fault was shown AND the owner of keeper knew or should have known of the animal's dangerous propensities.  The current law makes it unnecessary for the victim to show the dog was dangerous and known to be so.

Elements of A Dog Bite Claim

In Massachusetts a Plaintiff must prove three elements in order to recover from a canine encounter:

  1. Injury;
  2. That the Defendant was the owner or keeper of the dog causing the injury;
  3. The Plaintiff did not commit trespass or another tort and was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog.

Injuries Caused by Dogs

Not all dog attack injuries stem from bite wounds, although that is most common.  Victims may recover from other injuries suffered after being knocked or pulled down by a dog, as well as damage to their own property – including their own dog.  The dog does not even have to come in physical contact with the victim or the his or her property.  Even if a dog is being playful and jumps on someone in order to lick their face, and the person was injured, the dog owner would be liable.

Defenses of  Trespass, Other Tort, or Teasing, Tormenting, or Abusing the Dog

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that if a dog bite victim is under 7 years old at the time of the incident, the above defenses do not apply because it is presumed a young child cannot be responsible for those actions.  For example, if a 5 year old was bit and was teasing the dog, it doesn't matter that the child teased the dog.  Still…Bad dog!

Steps to Take If You are Injured by a Dog

If you are injured by a dog, there are important steps you can take to help you recover physically and financially.

1) Get any emergency medical treatment required;

2) Gather Information:

  • Obtain the owner's name, address and telephone number.
  • Do you see a car that belongs to the owner? Jot down or take a picture of the license plate number, or ask someone to do it for you if possible. This may help identify someone who tries to provide you with a false name.
  • Obtain the dog license information.
  • Use your mobile phone and take a picture of the dog if possible.
  • Get information from the dog's veterinarian regarding the dog's vaccination status.

3) File a report with the local animal control department or officer, or the police department.

4) Photograph your injuries, including lacerations, bruises, scrapes, torn clothing, etc.

5) Contact a Massachusetts personal injury and dog bite lawyer for help in pursuing your claim.  The owner's insurance company may contact you soon after the incident, so you should obtain your own legal counsel shortly thereafter the incident occurs.

6) Keep a Journal – Is your son or daughter missing school or activities due to dog bite injuries?  Are you missing work?  Make notes regarding your injuries, limitations, pain, and any anxiety suffered following the incident.

If you are a victim of a dog bite or other injury, or your own pet has been injured, please call our Massachusetts dog bite lawyers at Next Phase Legal LLC,  (508) 359-4043.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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