Even with close supervision and dedicated training, a dog may one day be in a position where it bites someone. Injuries can range from minor to severe, but in nearly all situations, the dog owner must hold some responsibility for failing to restrain or control their animal. Some states have a “one bite” rule, while others decree owners are always at fault.
Understanding dog bite laws and strict liability versus the one bite rule requires examining state law, how an owner can be to blame, and when the owner is not at fault. Whether you own the animal or have been harmed by one, the Massachusetts dog bite attorneys at DiBella Law Offices, P.C. are ready to help you understand your legal options.
Strict Liability vs. One Bite
For strict liability states, such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the dog’s owner will be held liable for any damage the dog causes to another person, even if it has never bitten before. With some exceptions, the victim can file a claim against the owner’s homeowners’ insurance policy. In extreme cases, a personal injury lawsuit may be required.
Some states, such as Vermont, have a “one bite” rule as part of their statutes. Essentially, if the dog’s owner can prove they had no reason to think their animal would bite, they are not held liable for the first time the dog bites someone. This can be a challenging point to prove since it requires showing the owner had no previous knowledge of any bites.
If the victim can show the owner knew the dog was a bite risk, then they can proceed with proving their case for negligence. In most states with dog bite laws, owners are responsible when their animal is off-leash, including when the dog is at liberty in a dog park. If a loose dog enters your yard and causes harm to you or your pet, you may have a case against the owner.
Massachusetts Uses Strict Liability for Dog Bite Cases
Owning a pet of any kind requires not only providing for its nutritional needs but also teaching it to behave safely around other people. A dog that isn’t socialized or trained can easily harm members of your own family. When a canine of any size or breed is not properly controlled and feels it must defend itself, the result can be substantial physical injury and trauma to people.
In Massachusetts, Chapter 140, General Law 155 holds dog owners strictly liable for any harm their animal causes to another person. This includes bites, scratches, injuries sustained from being knocked down, and property damage. In other words, any loss a person experiences when a dog attacks them is the responsibility of the animal’s owner.
This can even include situations where the dog is not aggressive but is overenthusiastic. A large dog jumping excitedly on a small child or elderly person could knock the individual to the ground. In cases where the dog is attacking, these victims can suffer extremely serious harm if the dog bites and shakes them.
Dog Owners May Not Be Liable in Some Situations
When a person is hurt by a dog, the insurance company or court will consider the circumstances of the situation. They will ask questions such as whether the dog was behind a fence or on a leash, whether the owner allowed the dog to run free, and whether the victim contributed to the accident. If the injured person bears responsibility for getting bitten, the owner may be able to avoid liability.
If the Dog Is Under Another Person’s Care
Dog walkers, dog sitters, and even veterinarians assume care of a dog when they are performing their respective services. In situations like these, if a dog bites, the owner is not usually held liable. Many factors can cause a dog to bite in unfamiliar circumstances, including getting medical treatment.
Owners still owe a duty of care to these individuals to warn them if their dog has a bite history. If the owner knew the dog might bite but didn’t tell the dog sitter, then liability may fall back onto the owner’s shoulders.
If the Victim Was Trespassing
If the person who gets bitten enters the property unlawfully, the dog’s owner generally can’t be held liable for any damage the animal causes. However, other laws dictate that, while a property owner doesn’t owe a duty of care to trespassers, they can’t do anything to purposely injure that person. Setting an aggressive dog onto a trespasser could be used against the owner in this case.
There are exceptions to this law about trespassing. For example, if a child is under the age of seven, the owner may still bear responsibility since the child can’t be accused of criminal trespass. In some cases, the court may even rule the dog presented an “attractive nuisance” if a child wants to pet the dog but is harmed in the process.
If the Victim Provoked the Dog
Teasing, tormenting, or abusing a dog will often cause it to bite the person who is injuring it. In these cases, the Massachusetts law removes liability from the dog’s owner and puts it onto the person who provoked the attack. If the victim is under age seven, however, the burden of liability goes back to the animal’s owner.
We've offered crucial support and guidance to individuals who have suffered injuries, ensuring their financial and emotional well-being.
What does a Dog’s Owner Owe If Their Pet Hurts You?
Being hurt by a dog can cause physical, emotional, and psychological damage. When you have a valid case to hold the owner responsible, the first step to securing compensation is to prove negligence. This allows you to present evidence showing you have injuries and require financial relief for them.
You may request payment for the economic damages, such as medical bills. Dog bite attacks often have long-lasting, non-economic effects that can’t be overlooked. There are a number of common damages a dog bite victim might seek, including:
- Medical costs for physical injuries
- Vet bills for another animal that was attacked
- Physical therapy costs
- Travel for medical treatment
- Loss of a limb, fingers, or toes
- Loss of vision, hearing, or other senses
- Isolation and embarrassment resulting from scarring and disfigurement
- Anxiety and PTSD
- Emotional therapy costs
- Property damage, including clothing, cell phones, watches, or other items
Deep bites and multiple injuries put victims at risk for additional conditions, such as infection or organ damage. With a small child, death can result immediately or later as a result of the attack. Every moment of time you need to recover and every penny it costs you is eligible for compensation when you have an experienced Boston dog bite lawyer working on your case.
Learn More About Dog Bite Laws
The law around animal attacks in Massachusetts appears simple but can be challenging to interpret. Every situation is unique and requires a skilled legal advocate to ensure your rights are protected. To learn more about strict liability versus the one-bite rule, contact the team at DiBella Law Offices, P.C., to schedule a free consultation today.