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When A Dog Bites

IMG_7747-169x300A dog bite occurs every 75 seconds in the US. Each year, according to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (“AHRQ”), 1,000 Americans require emergency treatment due to a serious dog bite injury. In 2016, there were 31 dog bite fatalities in the Unites States. So far in 2017 there have already been 10 deaths related to dog bites, the youngest victim was only 3-weeks old! Newborns attacked by dogs is not a rare occurrence. In 2016, children 3 to 6 days old who were bitten by dogs accounted for 31% of all deaths in children.

In Massachusetts the law governing dog bites states that an owner or keeper of a dog is liable for the damage caused by their dog to the individual or property. M.G.L. ch. 140 §155.

If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper … shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.

M.G.L.c. 140, §155.

Thus, someone bitten by a dog must demonstrate that they did not commit trespass or another tort and that he was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing a dog in order to recover for damages caused by the dog.  In addition, although the statute does not mention proximate cause, the plaintiff must also show that the dog’s actions were the proximate cause of his damages.  It does not matter whether the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by jumping and barking, or by an actual assault, so long as the direct attack of the dog is the efficient and proximate cause of the injury.  Sherman v. Favour, 83 Mass. 191 (1861).  See also Williams v. Brennan, 213 Mass. 28 (1912) (upholding judgment where defendant’s dog caused plaintiff’s automobile to skid in front of a horse that then reared and landed on top of it causing damage).  Because the statute allows for recovery of dog-inflicted “damage to either the body or property of any person,” a plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages, including all damage and loss proximately caused by the dog, such as pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and diminution in earning capacity.  Carmel v. Grandbois, 25 Mass. App. Ct. 1000, 1001 (1988).

Many dog owners worry about how they will pay for damages caused by their dog if they bite someone. Many homeowners and renter insurance policies will cover dog bite incidents. In 2016, homeowner insurances paid out more than $600 million in claims related to dog injuries. If you own a dog, then contact your insurance company to learn whether your dog is covered, because some types of dog breeds are not covered and are specifically excluded from coverage. Some of the breeds that are commonly “blacklisted” by insurance companies are Pit Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, and Doberman Pinschers.

If you, or someone you know, has been bitten by a dog, then contact one of our dog bite attorneys at Mitcheson & Lee. We have a great track record in getting compensation for our past clients who have been attacked by dogs.