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Dog Bite Strict Liability

Do All Dog Bite Cases Fall Under Strict Liability Law in Massachusetts?

Dog bites can be very serious, leading to injuries or even death and leave lasting trauma on its victims. Of 4 million dog bites reported annually, almost 1 million dog bite victims require medical treatment, half of which are children. If you are injured by a dog bite, Massachusetts law recognizes your right to compensation.

The Massachusetts statute concerning dog bite cases has remained mostly unchanged since its inception in 1812. It imposes strict liability on a dog-owner whose dog causes damage to a person or property who was lawfully present. Under common-law, owners have to be aware of the animal’s dangerous propensities, however under the local statute this is no longer required. Four elements are required to impose liability under the statute.

  1. An injury occurred
  2. Defendant was the owner or “keeper” of the dog that caused the injury
  3. The plaintiff did not commit a trespass or another tort and was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog
  4. The dog proximately caused the injury

This statute is not just for dog bites. It applies to any situation where a dog causes damage to a person or property. For example, this statute is applicable if a dog tackles someone causing injury, or damages something in your home.

States are either negligence states or strict liability states when it comes to dog bites. The Massachusetts statute imposes strict liability, meaning no proof that the owner was not exercising due care is necessary to warrant recovery. The owner could have been exercising the utmost care and could still be liable for an injury caused by their dog. Notably, the statute is especially harsh when the victim is under seven years old. An injury caused by a dog bite could also be brought under a theory of negligence. This would require the plaintiff to prove that the dog owner failed to exercise reasonable care, perhaps by failing to reasonably restrain the dog and leading to an injury. Because the strict liability statute is, on its face, easier to prove than under a negligence theory, negligence cases are rare. A theory of negligence may be proper if the particular situation is more conducive to a finding of negligence, so this avenue remains open to injured plaintiffs.

In some situations, charges can extend beyond tort law and into criminal charges. For example, if the owner facilitated the dog in its attack by “setting” the dog on someone. This may result in an assault with a deadly weapon charge.

Damages for dog bites may include medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost wages, damages for pain and suffering, and possibly more. The statute of limitations for dog bites is three years from the time of the injury. Time is of the essence, and your charge could be thrown out completely if you do not act soon. After seeking necessary medical attention, gather as much information as possible about the incident, and call our experienced lawyers at Altman & Altman LLP.

These cases can be particularly sensitive, often causing conflict between you and people close to you in the community. Our goal is never to punish an animal or its owner, it is simply to help you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. We always conduct our practice in a manner that does not create unnecessary conflict or hostility. Whether you have been bitten, or you are being charged, we can help. For further information about a dog bite case, please call us toll free 800.481.6199. We look forward to helping you.

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David was very aggressive and professional with the insurance companies in this settlement of this case. He kept me up to date on a regular basis through the whole process. I can't thank David and his staff enough and strongly recommend them to anyone. - Edward M. Newton MA
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I am not very good at words. I was involved in a horrible accident. David and his team (Thank You Asia & Rick) are wonderful, talented and compassionate. If it were not for their help, I don’t believe the outcome would be as good as it is. I am glad my case is settled, Altman & Altman are my go to team from now on. Thank you so very much. - Christine F M Teixeira
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