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Dog Bite Claims and Strict Liability

Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws c. 140 § 155, if any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage. This is what the legal community refers to as a “strict liability” statute. What this means is that if a dog bites another person the owner of the dog is responsible regardless of fault.

Normally, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, an injured plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent, and that the negligence caused or materially contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. Essentially, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant did something wrong that caused them to be injured. A good example of this would be a car accident. If an occupant of a vehicle is injured in an accident, and wishes to be compensated by the other driver, they must prove that the other driver was at fault. 

This is not the case for dog bite claims in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, provided the plaintiff is not committing a trespass or tormenting the dog, the plaintiff must only prove that the defendant owned the dog, and that the dog bit the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can establish these two elements they will be compensated for their injuries. It doesn’t matter if the dog snuck out through an open window, or if the owner simply let the dog run free in the neighborhood. The only thing a plaintiff must prove, in order to recover damages, is that the defendant owns the dog and the plaintiff was actually bitten.

There are two frequently asked questions I get pertaining to dog bite cases. The first question is, “if I bring a claim against a dog owner for a dog bite, will the dog be put down?” The answer depends on a number of factors. However, a dog will not be put down simply because it has bitten someone. If the dog bite is reported to police, Animal Control should respond. Animal Control will quarantine the dog for a period of time and assess whether the dog is aggressive. If the dog is deemed aggressive, or otherwise dangerous, the dog may be put down. Professionals make this dangerousness determination. The second question is, “how will the dog owner come up with the money to pay?” The answer is that homeowner insurance generally covers these claims in full.