Massachusetts Law on Dog Bites | How to Protect Your Rights

Finally, the spring (almost summer) weather has arrived in Massachusetts. Like every year, when the warmer weather moves in after a long, cold winter we all love to get outside. Some of us want to begin our spring yard cleanup, while others like to get outside and go for a run or a walk. If you’re like me, you do both.

Around this time, we typically see an increase in calls for dog bite personal injuries. In fact, we received three calls in the last week from people who were attacked by dogs. While dogs are cute and considered “man’s best friend”, they are sometimes unpredictable and capable of causing serious injuries. After speaking with these individuals, I thought it would be helpful to write about dog bite personal injury cases in Massachusetts and what you should do to protect your rights after being bitten by a dog.

The Law in Massachusetts on Dog Bites

The old common law theory for determining the liability of a dog owner for bites causing personal injuries was that the dog owner must have been shown to know or have reason to know of the dog's propensity to bite. This really meant that the dog got one free bite.  After that, the dog owner could be held liable for subsequent bites. Massachusetts changed this traditional method on determining liability for a dog bite by enacting a statute to cover these types of cases.

The specific statute is Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 140 Section 155, which provides in part: “If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner…shall be liable for such damage.” This is widely considered a strict liability statute. Strict liability means that the defendant (or dog owner in a dog bite case) is liable for an action, regardless of what his/her intent or mental state was when the action is committed. So, in the case of personal injuries caused by a dog bite, there is no need for the victim of the dog bite to prove the dog owner was negligent.

The statute does, however, provide for some specific defenses to dog bite personal injury cases. The statute provides that the dog owner is liable for dog bites, unless the dog bite victim was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog. These defenses do not pertain to children under the age of seven. Dog bite victims under the age of 7 are presumed not to have committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.  

Overview of Compensation for Dog Bite Injuries

Just like other personal injury claims or lawsuits, a victim of a dog bite may pursue a claim for personal injuries against the dog owner to recover compensation for their injuries and damages. As with other personal injury cases, such as car accidents and slip and falls, a dog bite victim may recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. Emotional injuries are also common in dog bite personal injury cases.

In addition to the standard damages recoverable, scarring is commonly associated with dog bite cases. Compensation for scarring depends on a number of different factors. The size and location of the scar is important in determining the value of a scar. Also, the age and sex of the individual bit is taken into consideration. For example, a scar on a little girl’s face from a dog bite is considered more valuable than a scar from a bite on an elderly man’s leg.

Tips to Follow After a Dog Bite

If you are attacked or bit by a dog you should follow these tips to help protect your legal rights to compensation:

1.  Get the Dog Owner’s Information. This is critical for dog bite personal injury cases. A dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy is available to cover injuries and damages caused by a dog bite. This is true even if the dog bites someone off the dog owner’s property. You may not be able to recover compensation unless you know who the dog owner is. For example, one of the calls we received this week was from a woman who was out for a jog in Milford, MA and was bit on her leg by a dog. In that situation, the dog owner ran out into the street and grabbed his dog. He gave the woman his information. In another situation, a girl was bit by a dog at a park in Wellesley, MA. The mother of the little girl franticly left the park with her daughter and went to the emergency room. She never found out who the dog owner was.

2.  Get Medical Attention Right Away. Putting any legal concerns aside, getting medical attention immediately following a dog bite is very important. Dog bites are notorious for causing infections and some bite wounds may require sutures to close. Aside from the obvious reasons to see a doctor right away, getting medical attention will document the dog bite and provide a doctor’s objective opinions about how severe the dog bite is and document the pain and other symptoms the victim experienced. Medical records will be needed in a personal injury case to negotiate a fair amount of money to compensate the dog bite victim.

3.  Consult with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer. While the law on dog bite cases seems clear and simple, the fact of the matter is that dog bite cases often present complex legal issues. Therefore, it is important for a victim of a dog bite to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury law firm will be able to protect a dog bite victim from any defenses asserted by the dog owner (i.e., that the victim was teasing or tormenting the dog) and advise what the reasonable value of a dog bite case is and whether an insurance companies offer is fair.

If You Were Bitten by a Dog, Contact Our Injury Attorneys

If you or someone you know has been attacked or bitten by a dog you should identify the dog’s owner, seek medical attention, and contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. The attorneys at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP have handled numerous dog bite cases and recovered reasonable and fair compensation for our clients.

Call us today at 508-879-3500 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation. We offer contingent fees on dog bite cases, which means, we don’t earn a legal fee until and unless you recover compensation.

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