Liability for Dog Bite Injuries

Domesticated dogs have served as a human companion for thousands of years, and provide both affection and protective benefits to their owners. Americans particularly love their dogs, and spend a lot of money each year keeping them healthy and happy. Most dog and human encounters are pleasant and uneventful, but dogs remain animals that cannot always be counted on to act predictably or in a non-aggressive manner.

Dog bites do happen, and the consequences for the victim can be very serious. The laws penalizing owners for these incidents are intended to encourage responsible dog ownership in order to protect the public from harm. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that one of every 69 people will be bitten by a dog, and with 90 million dogs registered in 2017, the chances of this happening are numerous. Dog owners will be held liable for harm caused to another person by their dog, and a discussion of the legal claims a dog bite victim could file to claim compensation, as well as common defenses presented against responsibility in these cases, will follow below.

Legal Claims for Dog Bite Liability

Massachusetts’ dog bite laws take a strict liability approach to assigning responsibility to owners for harm caused by their animals. This rule means that owners are liable for any bodily harm caused by their dog, including injuries that do not involve a bite, even if they did not know or have reason to know their dog could be violent and aggressive. Thus, it does not matter if the owner was at fault for the injury, which makes it easier to present a case justifying a damages award. In addition, it is also possible to file a negligence lawsuit against the dog owner for dog bites and other injuries, but the victim will need to prove the owner failed to use reasonable care, often a failure to restrain the animal or otherwise keep it controlled.

Negligence requires more than the strict liability to win compensation, so it is not typically used in these cases but is available if circumstances require another approach. Note that victims only have three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit, so quick action should be taken to avoid loss of evidence and to mitigate the financial damage these injuries can inflict due to medical bills and lost time at work.

Common Defenses

While dog owners will be held to a high standard to protect the public’s safety from dog-related injuries, there are still limits on when that liability applies. The actions of the victim can have some bearing on the responsibility of the dog owner for the attack. Specifically, evidence of any of the following may be used to defend against the strict liability standard used to assign liability in dog bite cases:

  • The victim was on the property without the owner’s permission. However, those on the premises executing a legal duty, such as mail delivery or utility maintenance, would be covered;
  • The injured party was committing another tort (wrongful conduct) at the time of the attack; or
  • The injured party provoked the dog, i.e., teasing, tormenting, or abusing the animal.

A practical reality of many dog bite situations is that they involve friends, neighbors, and family, none of whom the victim truly wishes to punish. It is possible to obtain just compensation for these injuries without demonizing the animal or vilifying the owner. An experienced dog bite attorney can assist with settling a claim in a respectful and civil manner that avoids injecting unnecessary animosity.

Contact a Dog Bite Attorney

Dog attacks can be devastating, and cause long-term physical and emotional harm. If you are the victim of a dog bite attack, speak with the attorneys at Goldberg & Weigand, LLP about pursuing the owner for damages. Owners must be held accountable for the actions of their animals, and Goldberg & Weigand, LLP will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact the New Bedford office today for a free consultation.

4 things to do if someone else’s dog bites your child

Children who are ages 5 years old to 9 years old are the leading victims of dog bites that cause serious injuries. In most cases, dog bites are to the face of children when the child is 10 years old or younger. These attacks often come as a shock to a child’s parents, and it is easy to become so stressed that you aren’t sure what to do when this happens to your child. If your child is bitten by a dog, there are four things you should do.

Seek medical care

Your primary focus is likely going to be to get your child medical care. Dog bite injuries are the second leading accident-related reason for children to go to the emergency room. There are a host of risks that come with dog bites. Your child could end up with an infection because of the bacteria in the dog’s mouth. Disfigurement and emotional trauma are also possible. Prompt medical care can sometimes help to minimize the risk of complications. It can also provide the link that proves the injuries happened at the time of the attack.

Determine who owns the dog

Determining who owns the dog that attacked is important. This is the person you can turn to for answers to very important questions. It also lets you know whom to hold liable for the damages associated with the attack. When you locate the owner, you should find out if there is an insurance policy in place that will cover the costs associated with the dog attack.

Find out if the dog is up to date on shots

When you talk to the dog’s owner, you should find out if the dog is up to date on shots. This is especially true for rabies. If the dog isn’t current with shots, the dog may need to be quarantined to determine if there are any signs of rabies or other diseases that might transfer to the child because of the attack.

Report the incident

You should report the dog attack to the local animal control. It is important that this organization has a record of attacks, especially if the dog would attack again. Dog owners in Massachusetts have a duty to keep others safe from their dogs. This offers some good protection against all victims of dog bites, especially when the victim is a child. Typically, a child who is younger than 7 years old wouldn’t be presumed to have done anything to provoke a dog, according to Massachusetts law.

The law on Massachusetts dog bites: strict liability

In most personal injury cases, the question is on who was negligent. For example, in a car accident, it is the driver who was speeding, texting, driving drunk or otherwise not paying attention to the road who is responsible for covering the costs if anyone is injured.

This is true also for premises liability, or “slip and fall” cases. The person injured must show that the entity responsible for maintaining the premises, such as the store owner, landlord or homeowner, did not act reasonably to prevent injuries by maintaining the property in a safe condition.

This is not the case when a dog attacks and injures someone. In such a situation, Massachusetts holds to a theory known as “strict liability.” Strict liability means that a person is responsible for covering the costs associated with an accident or injury regardless of fault.

In a dog bite case, the questions are straightforward. The injured victim must show that:

  • A dog caused the injury at issue
  • The owner of the dog is the one being sued
  • The victim was not trespassing or engaged in illegal activity or taunting the dog

The rationale behind strict liability for dog bites is to ensure that dog owners are extremely careful about dog attacks. Whether the dog had a history of violence, was on a leash, or has been through extensive training makes no difference in legal liability. However, owners who properly care and train their pets have a lower likelihood of their animal attacking someone.

Any animal may end up biting or attacking someone, particularly if they lack care and training. That is why owners in Massachusetts are responsible for the actions of their pets.

Dog attacks can result in serious injuries

Dog bites and dog attacks can result in significant injuries, including punctures, fractured bones, scars and infections. Significant emotional issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder, may also arise.

Under Massachusetts law, if you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, you may be able to obtain compensation for your medical costs and lost wages.

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