Boston Dog Attack Lawyers
Individuals attacked or bitten by an animal, in particular dogs, may be entitled to what is called Strict Liability here in Massachusetts. What this means is that negligence need not be proven against the owner or keeper of the dog in order to collect monetary damages for your injuries. Essentially, many of these cases do not involve disputes over who was at fault for the incident and are cases requiring only an assessment as to the monetary value of the injuries suffered.
If you think you may have a claim in this area, it is important to contact us right away. We are experienced Boston dog attack lawyers. The longer you wait, the more likely that important physical evidence can be lost and the harder it will become to locate any potential witnesses to the incident.
What is "Strict Liability" Against the Owner or Keeper of the Dog under the Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute?
What is often referred to as the "Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute" (although it applies to any injury or damage caused by a dog, not just "bites"), M.G.L. Ch. 140 Section 155, provides for potential civil liability against the "owner" or "keeper" of a dog in Massachusetts that causes a person to suffer bodily injury or property damage. Provided certain requisites in the statute are met, the law provides for "strict liability" (essentially an automatic finding of negligence) against the owner or keeper of the dog. For an injured victim to qualify for "strict Liability" against the owner or keeper of the dog under the statute, the following must be demonstrated:
- The dog must cause personal injury or property damage, and
- The injured victim must not have been trespassing, engaged in a crime or other tort (civil wrong) of their own, or provoking/teasing/tormenting the dog at the time of the incident.
If these two elements are met, then the injured victim is automatically entitled (under "strict liability") to compensation for their injuries or damages. It does not matter if the dog never acted aggressively before, and proving negligence against the owner or keeper of the dog is not required.
Who is an "Owner" or "Keeper" of a Dog under the Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute?
The "owner" of a dog is strictly liable for injury or damage caused by his or her dog, provided the injured victim was not trespassing, engaged in a crime or other tort (civil wrong), or provoking/teasing/tormenting the dog at the time of the incident. But "keepers" of a dog can also be held strictly liable. So who would qualify as a "keeper" of a dog? Courts in Massachusetts have determined this to be a question of fact to be determined on a case by case basis. In the 1990 case of Brown v. Bolduc, 556 N.E.2d 1051, 29 Mass.App.Ct. 909, the court held that a "keeper" is someone who "harbor[s] with an assumption of custody, management and control of the dog". The mere presence of a dog does not establish keepership, nor does the simple fact that you have fed, pet, or played with a dog. There needs to be an adequate connection to the dog whereby it's reasonable to expect the individual to be assuming control or care for the dog, even if only temporary. For example, a dog walker who has formally taken over control of the animal from its owner, even if only for a temporary period of time, could be found to qualify as a "keeper" of the dog during that period of time.
Can Liability for Dog Attacks be established against one who is not an Owner or Keeper of the Dog?
Yes. But not under the "Strict Liability" Statute. To establish liability for a dog bite against someone who is not an "owner" or "keeper" of the dog, the case must be proven under the common law legal theory of negligence.
The most common situation where this issue sometimes arises is with cases involving dog owners who are renters and have no significant assets or insurance coverage of their own. So the question becomes whether or not the owner of the property (landlord) can be held liable, thereby potentially gaining access to the property owner's assets or insurance coverage, by establishing that he or she was negligent because they "knew, or should have known, that the dog being kept on their property was dangerous, or had a propensity to be dangerous".
Can you Recover through the Homeowner's Insurance of the Owner, Keeper, or Negligent Third Party?
Often, yes. But not always. One (preferably an experienced lawyer) needs to carefully read the insurance policy in question to determine whether or not there's coverage. The problem is that many homeowner insurance companies have started including exclusions to bog bites and/or attacks in their policies. Often times these exclusions will only apply to certain breeds of dog known for their violent propensities, but the insurance policy in question will need to read carefully to determine exactly when, and how, any exclusions will be enforced.
What to do Immediately After being Bitten or Attacked by a Dog
- If you have a camera or cell phone on you then take pictures of dog, the person who was apparently in control of the dog at the time, and your injuries;
- Obtain the identity of the dog, the dog's owner, and the person in control of the dog at the time (if not the owner) - this includes names and contact information;
- Ask for proof of rabies vaccination;
- Contact the Police and local Dog Officer (the Police will usually notify the Dog Officer for you);
- Seek medical care as soon as possible (document your injuries) - Also, M.G.L. ch. 112 Section 12z mandates that "every physician attending or treating a case of dog attack … shall report such case within twenty-four hours to the inspector of animals of the city or town where such dog attack occurred ";
- File your own dog attack report with the local Animal Control Officer (this will help to ensure there's adequate reporting of the incident); and
- If you were injured, contact a Boston dog attack lawyer or law firm experienced with handling dog attack cases right away. Don't delay. A trained and experienced dog bite lawyer will know what information needs to be collected, and how to get it before relevant evidence disappears or becomes harder to obtain. Initial consultations are free and most law firms, like mine, handle dog attack cases on a contingency fee basis - meaning you pay absolutely nothing unless financial compensation is successfully recovered for you. Contact us today.
Additional Legal Resources
- General Law - Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 155
- General Law - Part I, Title XVI, Chapter 112, Section 12Z
- General Law - Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 137
- General Law - Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 145
- O'DONNELL vs. POLLOCK, 170 Mass. 441
- BROWN vs. BOLDUC, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 909