Dog Bite Injuries

In Massachusetts, the owners and keepers of wild animals, or domesticated animals such as dogs, are held strictly liable for bites and other injuries caused by their pets.

In practical terms, what this means is that the victim of a dog bite need not show that the dog had a bad disposition or that the dog’s owner was negligent in supervising the dog in order for the bite victim to recover. Instead, the mere fact that the dog bit the victim is generally enough to hold the owner liable for the dog bite and all damages resulting from it.

The fact that a dog owner can be held liable for a dog bite despite taking precautions to prevent the bite from occurring – such as leashing the dog – is unusual in the personal injury field, where generally a defendant has to be guilty of some kind of negligence in order for the plaintiff to recover. The special form of liability governing Massachusetts dog bite cases is known as “strict liability” because it is a stricter standard than a negligence standard. Again, under a strict liability standard, the mere fact that a dog or other animal caused the injury is generally enough to prove the owner’s legal liability.

Many people mistakenly believe that Massachusetts recognizes a “one free bite” rule in dog bite cases, allowing a dog to attack at least one innocent victim before the dog’s owner can be held legally liable for the dog’s actions. In fact, Massachusetts, unlike some states, does not have a “one free bite” rule. The very concept of a one free bite rule – a rule which amounts to a negligence standard – is entirely opposed to the strict liability standard of Massachusetts dog bite law.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140 § 155, the Massachusetts dog bite statute, the only potential defenses available to dog owners in a dog bite injury case are the dog bite victim’s having teased, tormented or abused the dog and, in some instances, having committed a legal trespass against the dog. But these defenses are narrow and, again, it is not a defense that the dog that inflicted the bite had a good temperament or that its owner too care to restrain the dog or to prevent it from biting people. These facts will not help a dog owner avoid liability for a dog bite injury.

As the victim of a dog bite knows, the injuries that result from a bight can be extensive. Often, dog bites cause scarring or other disfigurement and can involve a very painful series of rabies shots. Of course, the victim of a dog bite can recover for all the typical personal injury damages, pain and suffering and medical expenses.

However, the dog bite victim should be aware that, if she wishes to have plastic surgery to repair scarring from the bite, very often her own health insurance will not cover such surgery because it is considered purely cosmetic, elective surgery. Therefore, the only way to be certain that the dog bite victim will not have to pay out-of-pocket for her future medical expenses is to have a dog bite lawyer obtain a favorable settlement on her behalf.

The bottom line for dog bite victims is that they should consult with a dog bite lawyer to protect their rights. More information about dog bite cases, including special issues that arise with child dog bite victims and the availability of homeowner’s insurance policies to compensate dog bite victims is available below: