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.
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.
Attorney Peter M. Goldberg is the founder of and managing partner at Goldberg & Weigand, LLP, and has been in private practice since 1986. He takes pride in the fact he deals directly with his clients on a daily basis working to get their cases resolved to the fullest extent of their rights. Peter practices personal injury law and workers compensation law in Massachusetts.