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Dog Bites in Massachusetts: An Overview

In Massachusetts, a dog owner or keeper is liable for damages if the dog causes personal injury or property damage, and the injured person was not trespassing, committing another tort, or provoking the dog.

Consider the following scenario: Macy is a college student home from college for the summer. She is happy to be home to spend time with her family, including the family dog, a golden retriever named Tucker. He is five-years old and loves his toys. He has never bitten or attacked a human or other animal.

One summer afternoon, Macy decides to walk Tucker in her family’s residential neighborhood. After walking with him for a mile, Macy sees a man in the distance. Suddenly, Tucker begins to bark. He pulls on his leash. Unexpectedly, Tucker breaks free from Macy’s grasp and charges at the man. The man bends down to pet Tucker, but is instead greeted with bite marks on his legs. He is injured and treated for his injuries at a nearby hospital. He wants to know: can he sue for his injuries to cover his damages?

As we noted above, the answer is yes. In Massachusetts, an injured party can recover for a dog bite under a special statute, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 140, section 155, which makes the dog owner or keeper strictly liable. In addition, the injured party may recover under tort liability, such as negligence or intentional torts.

In fact, in Massachusetts, the dog bite law applies even if a dog jumps on someone. The law applies if a dog does any damage to the body or the property of any person. So, even if the dig did not bite the man, but had only jumped on him, Tucker’s family would be potentially liable.

Suppose that Macy asked her friend Martha to walk Tucker and Tucker bit the man. Would Macy and her family be liable? Would Martha be liable? The law in Massachusetts states that any owner or keeper may be liable. As owners, Macy and her family must do what they can to ensure that Tucker does not bite someone and cause damages in another’s body or property. As the keeper of the dog, Martha may also be liable. In the case of any minors who are acting as the dog’s keepers, the parents or guardians of the minor are liable for any potential injuries caused by the dog.

Now imagine that the above facts were changed, so that Tucker only bit the man because the man was teasing Tucker. Perhaps the man was blowing a certain whistle or making some type of sound that was harmful for the dog’s ears. Or, perhaps the man was closer to Tucker and touched his back, also pulling hard on his ears. Would anyone be liable to the man for the bites that he received? In Massachusetts, if someone teases, torments, or abuses a dog at the time of the attack incident, the owners or keepers of a dog may not be liable. This means that the law considers the suffering that the dog experienced at the time of the incident. Another exception applies to trespassers, or a situation where someone were to break into a home and were injured by the dog—the statute may not protect the injured person under those circumstances.

It is important to note that in Massachusetts, dog owners may still be liable even if they had no idea that a dog would bite someone. As is the case above, Tucker never bit a human or animal before. This fact is less important in Massachusetts because Massachusetts views dog bites from a “strict liability” perspective. This means that the bite victim does not necessarily need to show that the owner was negligent in order to recover under the statute.

If you have any questions involving tort law, dog bites, animal attacks, personal injury, or injuries, you should contact a competent personal injury law attorney. Our experienced professionals may be able to work on behalf of you or you and your family. Please contact our offices at your earliest convenience by phone at 978-225-9030 or complete a contact form on our website. We will return your phone call or inquiry promptly.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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