If you’ve been bitten by a dog in Massachusetts, it might be difficult to determine what you should do or what you can do following a dog attack. When dogs attack, injuries can range from small puncture wounds to disfiguring injuries that are prone to infection. Dog attacks may also lead to post-traumatic stress and emotional trauma. With mounting medical bills and an altered way of life, it is important to understand what legal remedies are available to you or the person suffering personal injuries or property damage.
In Massachusetts, owners of dogs who cause damage to others or their property are strictly liable for the cost of damages or injuries that occur as a result of the attack. (See Massachusetts statute, G. L. c. 140, § 155.) A recent Massachusetts Appellate Court case, Irwin v. Degtiarov, dealt with the question of what types of damages are covered under the strict liability statute. In this case, a German Shepherd attacked another dog, unprovoked. The smaller dog had to have emergency surgery to repair injuries to the head, neck, abdomen, and chest. While this case dealt with the specific damages related to the pet, it also reviewed prior case law that applies to all damages caused by dogs. Case precedent has determined the intent of the statute was to be remedial, not penal, and that the purpose was to protect people who are exposed to dog attacks through no fault of their own. When writing the current statute, the legislature removed the prior requirement that forced the injured party to show the owner knew of the dangerous habits of the dog or that the dog was prone to biting. The Massachusetts legislature wanted to make it easier for an injured party to obtain damages and return to the condition he or she was in prior to the incident with the dog.
In personal injury lawsuits, the injured person must show that the at-fault party owed a duty to him or her, and that the failure to uphold the duty resulted in the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The injured person must also show the cost of the damage that occurred as a result of the injury. G. L. c. 140, § 155 creates liability for dog owners who fail to restrain their pets, but it does not specify how to measure “any damage caused by a dog.” Damages may be available for injuries beyond bites or physical contact with the dog, such as if a dog attempts to attack and causes an injury to the person trying to get away, or if the dog runs out into the street and causes a car accident. In these situations, the owner may be held liable for the resulting injuries if the dog acted maliciously or viciously. Even though there is strict liability for most attacks, the owner of a dog is not responsible for injuries if the injured person was either trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking the dog.
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