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Dog Bites and Dog Attacks in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, victims of dog bites or attacks primarily seek compensation through the state’s strict liability statute, which holds the owner of the dog responsible for any injuries caused.  The injured person does not need to prove the dog owner’s negligence, or prove they had knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities. While this statute forms the cornerstone of most dog bite claims, there are scenarios where strict liability may not apply, however in some circumstances, such as with landlords, a negligence claim can be brought.  

Strict Liability Under Massachusetts Dog Bite Law

Massachusetts stands out by not adhering to the ‘one bite rule’ that other jurisdictions follow.  Instead, it adopted a strict liability approach with M.G.L. c. 140, s. 155.  Under this statute, victims of dog bites or attacks do not need to prove negligence to bring a successful legal action and be compensated.  The key is proving that the injury was caused by the dog and meet the statutory requirements.  This strict liability statute, however, is exclusive to dog-related incidents and does not extend to other animals.

MA General Laws Chapter 140 Section 155

If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, 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 tortor was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, Is under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant (dog owner) in such action.

Massachusetts Dog Attack Liability: Injuries caused by a dog jumping, scratching, knocking a person down

Massachusetts law extends beyond dog bite incidents, covering a wide range of situations where dogs cause personal injuries. This includes being knocked down by a jumping dog, scratching, tripping over a dog, being chased by a dog, and being knocked off a bicycle.  Under the strict liability statute, the owner or keeper is accountable for the injuries caused by the dog.  

A Distinction: Dog Owners and ‘Keepers

In Massachusetts, liability extends beyond the dog owner to the ‘keeper’ of the dog.  A ‘keeper’ is someone who assumes custody, management, and control of the dog.  Brown v. Bolduc, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 909 (1990). However, determining who qualifies as a ‘keeper’ can be complex and is a question of fact.  Keepership depends on the level of control over the dog. ‘Keepers’ can include a veterinary technician, dog walker, or dog sitter. Those individuals would be subject to strict liability under the statute and liable for the dog-caused personal injuries.

Exceptions under the Statute

Exceptions to the strict liability statute are if the victim was trespassing, teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog. However, this defense is not available if the dog bite victim is a young children under (7) seven years old.    

Negligent Landlords – Special Considerations for Landlords and dangerous dogs owned by tenants

If a tenant’s dog bites or attacks another individual on the landlord’s property, there are certain circumstances where the landlord may be held liable under a negligence theory. For example, if the landlord had prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies, or they failed to enforce lease rules regarding pets. Notably, the Massachusetts case, Nutt v. Florio highlights that knowledge of a breed’s aggressive nature can factor into determining negligence.  A residential landlord has a duty of reasonable care to protect a tenant from harm by another tenant’s pit bull on the premises.  See Nutt v. Florio, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 482, 486 (2009). However, the Massachusetts Appellate Court has not extended a landlords duty to a passerby injured by a tenant’s dog after the dog leaves the landlord’s property. See Creatini v. McHugh, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 126 (2021). These are fact specific and its important to speak with a Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your specific circumstances.

Negligence Examples:

  • Landlord failing to address known dangers posed by tenant-owned dogs.
    • Tenant allows dog to roam off-leash
  • Landlord has knowledge of a dog’s aggressive nature.
  • Tenants/Residents complain about a dangerous dog being kept on the premises, but the owner takes no action.

Statute of Limitations

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims related to dog bites or attacks is three years from the date of the incident. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A

Dog bites and dog attacks can result in serious injuries, medical treatment, medical bills, and potentially permanent scarring.  If you or a family member is a victim of a dog bite contact an experienced personal injury attorney who specializes in these types of personal injury cases.  Call or reach out to Gavagan Law, LLC and we’ll guide you through this process and pursue the compensation you rightfully deserve.  Call or reach out using our contact form and speak with us for a free consultation.

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