Dog-Bite Injury Liability in Boston

The fatal mauling of a 14-year-old Dighton boy has dog-bite safety in focus as spring gets underway in New England.

The boy, who was a freshman at Bristol-Plymouth Technical School, was mauled by four dogs while helping a dog owner who had traveled to Boston, the Herald reported. He had been dropped off by his grandmother to do chores on the property. A neighbor called 911 to report a pack of dogs attacking a human.dog-attack-225x300

Responding officers found the boy on the ground of the property located off Maple Swamp Road.  The dogs were Dutch shepherds and Belgian malinois. Dighton is just outside Providence, Rhode Island, about 45 minutes south of Boston. The USA Today reported there are indications that the property owner may be a professional dog breeder.

While it’s not often discussed, or often thought about, Our Boston dog bite attorneys know dog bites are a common occurrence. Dog owners have a legal responsibility to prevent their animals from injuring an innocent party. Spring is a particularly dangerous time as dog owners return to the streets and parks with their animals.

Dog Bite Injury Claims in Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ dog bite laws are among the best in the nation, particularly when it comes to protecting young children.

M.G.L. Ch. 140 Sec. 155 governs liability for dog bites in Massachusetts. The law holds dog owners, or the parents of minors who are dog owners, responsible for dog bite injuries, except in cases of trespassing or when a victim was tormenting or abusing the animal. Massachusetts dog bite law also recognizes the attractive nuisance doctrine, which holds that children under age 7 will be presumed innocent of trespassing or tormenting an animal, and puts the burden of proof on the defendant in such cases.

An experienced dog bite lawyer in Boston should always be consulted in the wake of a serious or fatal dog attack. These are complex cases, often involving emotional trauma, scarring, infection, and other issues that may not be apparent at the time of attack. Dog bites are the leading cause of homeowner insurance claims, as these cases most often proceed against a dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. The Insurance Journal reports the number of dog-bite claims has increased more than 75 percent in the last 15 years, and now cost the industry more than $324 million a year.

It’s important to understand dog owners are not immune from liability for dog bites on their own property. More than half of all dog bites occur on an owner’s property, and account for more than one-third of all homeowner’s insurance claims. Homeowner’s should check their policy to make sure they have adequate coverage and that their policy does not include breed limitations. Most polices provide $100,000-$300,000 in liability coverage for dog attacks, with the homeowner being liable for any judgment beyond their insurance limit.

Dog bite claims in Massachusetts can also be pursued under common grounds of liability, including negligence, negligence per se, and scienter, which essentially means a defendant knew he was acting dangerously. M.G.L. Chapter 231 Sec. 85 governs comparative negligence in Massachusetts and does not recognize assumption of risk. Thus, property owners cannot argue a victim was attacked after accepting known risks. From what we know of this cases, a compelling argument could be made that the dog owner, particularly if a professional breeder, acted negligently, dangerously, and inappropriately, by allowing a teenager to care for his dogs.

If the teen was a regular employee, workers’ compensation insurance benefits may also be available for an on-the-job injury, although that is unlikely to be the case in this incident.

Boston Dog Bite Safety and Liability

The City of Dighton will now be tasked with determining whether to euthanize the animals.

Being a responsible pet owner can keep your animal safe, and prevent you from being found liable for injury. Our Boston dog bite injury lawyers encourage you to obey leash laws and be particularly cautious as you begin walking and socializing your dog this spring. Dog bite injuries are a startlingly common occurrence precisely because owners think their dog either won’t attack or won’t seriously injure someone if a bite occurs.

Nearly 4.7 million dog bites occur each year in the United States, affecting 1 out of every 69 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Small children face the highest risks. Nearly 400 people have died from dog attacks in the U.S. in the last decade. The Agency for Healthcare Research reports more than 300,000 emergency room visits and 10,000 hospitalizations occur each year in the United States as a result of a dog attack.

Massachusetts leash law can be found in M.G.L. Ch. 140 Sec. 173. Boston’s leash ordinance is 16-1.9. Massachusetts law requires all dogs to be licensed and leashed in public and for owners to pick up after their animals.

The Insurance Information Institute offers a number of safety tips for dog owners:

  • Proper training: Obedience training your dog is your responsibility. Trial and error in public is not an acceptable method. Too often, these attacks occur when owners attempt to socialize their animals in public.
  • Choose wisely: Some dogs are more aggressive than other breeds. Some are larger, stronger, and capable of inflicting more serious injuries. Some dogs, particularly if they are older or have been abused, are poorly adjusted or have other emotional issues that make them less stable or less appropriate for socialization with other animals of children.
  • Supervise: Never leave a dog alone with young children. Be sensitive to whether a child wants to approach an animal. Never force contact. Pay particular attention to your dog when exposing it to new situations.
  • Teach: Teach your dog. Teach your child. Never disturb a dog while eating or sleeping. Never tease a dog.
  • Play: Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Non-aggressive games such as fetch are best. Teaching your dog to play aggressively can result in an unintentional attack.

Dog attacks don’t just happen. They are almost always the result of a careless or negligent dog owner who decides an attack won’t happen to them, or an owner who disregards the health, safety and welfare of others in favor of allowing their animal free roam.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.