Massachusetts Court Rules Landlord is Not Liable for Harm Caused by Tenant’s Dog

Under Massachusetts’ “dog bite” law, people who have dogs can be held accountable for any harm the dog causes to innocent victims. While the dog bite law is a strict liability statute, which means that liability can be imposed absent any negligence, a plaintiff must nonetheless prove certain things to recover damages, including that the defendant kept or owned the dog. Recently, a Massachusetts court issued an opinion discussing whether a landowner could be held liable for harm caused by a tenant’s dog. If you were injured by a dog attack, you have the right to pursue compensation, and you should meet with a knowledgeable Massachusetts personal injury lawyer to determine your rights.

The Plaintiff’s Harm

It is alleged that the plaintiff was riding his bicycle past a property owned by the defendant and rented to a tenant. The tenant owned a dog who chased and attacked the plaintiff, who fell off his bike and suffered injuries. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging he was strictly liable for his harm under the dog bite law and was negligent as well. Following discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Liability for Dog Bites

First, the court noted that, contrary to the plaintiff’s assertions, the dog bite law did not apply to the defendant because he was not the keeper or owner of the dog in question. Thus, as the matter was not governed by statutory law, the court applied common law negligence principles. The court explained that to prevail on the negligence claim, the plaintiff was required to show that the defendant owed him a duty to act with reasonable care, but the defendant breached the duty owed and a causal link between the breach and the harm suffered.

Generally, a landowner does not owe a duty to affirmatively prevent people from suffering harm because of the unlawful or dangerous acts of other people. There is an exception, though, in cases in which there is a special relationship between a landowner and plaintiff, pursuant to which the plaintiff would reasonably expect the landowner to take steps to protect him or her. The court explained that while such a relationship exists between a landlord and a tenant, no Massachusetts court had found that such a relationship is present between a property owner and an individual harmed by a tenant’s dog. The court declined to extend such a duty in the subject case, either. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Knowledgeable Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

While most dogs are friendly, they can nonetheless unexpectedly attack people, and anyone harmed by a dog has the right to seek compensation. If you were injured by a dog bite, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your potential claims. Knowledgeable personal injury attorney James K. Meehan can help you to pursue claims against negligent dog owners, and he will work diligently on your behalf. You can contact us via our form online or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a conference.