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Articles Posted in Dog Bite Injuries

When seeking damages through a personal injury lawsuit, the goal is to become “whole,” or as you were prior to the injury. Some of the damages are to help cover the costs during this period like lost wages. Others are to help pay for the medical care received after the injury and for future medical expenses required to continue healing. An experienced personal injury attorney will seek damages from any and all entities deemed responsible for the payment of damages. Many times, this will be an insurance company that issued an auto, homeowner, or commercial policy that is designed to provide quick, accessible payments. While insurers exist to provide funds in times of emergency, insurance companies often decline to pay the benefits found in a policy. These types of challenges present additional obstacles for the injured person to overcome.

A recent Massachusetts case (No. 15-P-1706) was a case in which an insurer was ultimately required by the appellate court to provide coverage. The plaintiff was injured by a dog while she was walking her own dogs.  The injured person tried to protect her dogs during the attack, suffering a broken arm, a laceration to her face, and scrapes on her knees, elbows, and ankles. The aggressive dog had a history of biting other dogs. The owner of the dog had a homeowner’s insurance policy and attempted to file a claim to help pay for the injuries sustained by the injured person. The insurer refused to provide coverage, pointing to the application submitted by the owner that left out the prior bites. The trial court, despite protests from the dog owner and the injured woman, granted the insurance company’s motion to dismiss the claims against it seeking payment of benefits. Both the owner and the injured person appealed.

The dog owner acknowledged he owned a dog on his initial application for homeowner’s insurance. Under a section asking him to “Note breed and bite history”, he wrote, “American bull dog — no biting incidents.” The dog owner signed and verified that his answers were ‘true, complete and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.” After the injury in this case, the insurance company investigated the claim and found that the offending dog had previously bitten two other dogs before the owner’s application was turned in. In its motion to dismiss, the insurer argued the answers were a material misrepresentation that voided the policy and its benefits.

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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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The third week of May is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. As Massachusetts dog bite injury attorneys we thought you may be interested in the following facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of that amount, more than 2.3 million are children under the age of 12.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance companies paid out $478.9 million in dog bite claims last year; and $412.6 million in 2010. That averages out to approximately $30,000 per claim.

Massachusetts has a Dog Bite Statute (M.G.L. c. 140 § 155) that allows an individual bitten or attacked by a dog to pursue a claim against the homeowner’s insurance policy of the owner or keeper of the dog. This also includes any property damage.The Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute is a strict liability statute because a dog bite is an inherently dangerous act. Strict liability means that the dog owner is automatically liable, regardless of fault (even if the dog never bit anyone before). One caveat to this rule is whether the injured person was trespassing or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog (i.e. the victim was bitten as a result of his/her own negligence). If the victim is a child under the age of seven, then the caveat is set aside, and the dog owner is automatically liable.

According to M.G.L. c. 140 § 147A, Massachusetts allows any city or town to enact its own ordinances and by-laws regarding the regulation of dogs. This includes leash laws. For instance, the City of Fall River has an ordinance requiring all dogs be leashed, whether on your own property, private property, or public property, including parks, playgrounds, or cemeteries.

In addition, Massachusetts has a state-wide law that requires all dogs to be licensed beginning at the age of six months. Licensing occurs annually. In order for a dog to be licensed, updated rabies vaccination records must also be provided. However, each city or town may have promulgated an earlier time frame for licensing, such as Fall River, which requires the licensing of dogs at four months, rather than the state’s six month rule.

Cited Resources:

City of Fall River Massachusetts; Dog Licenses and the Leash Law, Continue reading →