pixel Strict Liability Rule for Dog Bites in Massachusetts

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Strict Liability Rule for Dog Bites in Massachusetts

Find Out If You Can Claim Damages for an Animal Attack

Are you aware of the Massachusetts dog bite rule and how it could impact your life? Imagine a world where your innocent encounter with a dog could lead to legal repercussions. The Massachusetts dog bite rule, a legal framework designed to address such situations, governs liability when a dog bites or injures someone.

In Massachusetts, this rule holds dog owners accountable for their pets’ actions, making them responsible for any harm inflicted by their dogs, even if the dog had no history of aggression. It’s essential to understand how this rule affects you and your community, as it can have far-reaching consequences in the event of a dog-related incident.

Quick Summary

  • Massachusetts dog bite rule follows a “strict liability” approach for dog-related injuries and property damage.
  • Owners can be held liable even if they were unaware of their dog’s potential danger.
  • Breed-specific legislation and bans are not allowed in Massachusetts.
  • The strict liability rule applies even when the owner isn’t present during an incident.
  • “Keeper” liability exists for those temporarily caring for a dog.
  • Special rules apply for younger dog owners and victims, with parents often held responsible.
  • Landlords may be liable if they fail to address known risks posed by a tenant’s dog.
  • Exceptions to liability may exist if a victim was trespassing or provoking the dog.
  • Massachusetts law provides a three-year statute of limitations for dog bite claims.
  • Legal action requires proving ownership and may involve both criminal and civil cases.
  • Dog bite victims can seek economic damages for medical bills, plastic surgery, therapy, lost wages, and more.
  • Non-economic damages cover pain and suffering, permanent scarring, counseling, loss of quality of life, and social anxiety.

What is the Massachusetts Dog Bite Rule?

In Massachusetts, much like most states, they follow a “strict liability” approach when it comes to injuries and property damage caused by dogs. According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 140, Section 155, an owner can be held civilly liable, even if they were unaware that their dog might pose a danger or took precautions to prevent any harm.

This strict liability rule differs from the “one-bite rule” used in some states, where an owner can only be liable if they have prior knowledge of their dog’s potential danger. What sets Massachusetts apart is that this same strict liability law covers not only dog bites but also other injuries and property damage caused by dogs. 

So, for instance, if someone is walking in a public park and a dog breaks free from its leash, causing her to fall and resulting in injuries and property damage, the owner could still be held legally responsible under Massachusetts law, even if they had taken preventive measures.

What is the Liability When the Owner Isn’t Present?

In Massachusetts, their strict liability rule holds dog owners responsible for their dog’s actions, even if they’re not present when an incident occurs. This means that if someone else, like a pet sitter or a friend, is looking after the dog and it causes harm, the owner could still be sued.

But here’s the catch: Massachusetts’ strict liability law also applies to the dog’s “keeper.” A “keeper” is someone who has control and custody of the dog, whether or not they own it. This could be a professional, like a vet or a dog walker, or just a friend or family member taking care of the dog. Lawsuits involving a “keeper” can be complex for a couple of reasons.

  • In certain situations, a defendant could argue that they didn’t have sufficient control over the dog to be considered its keeper.
  • According to Massachusetts law, a victim typically has to decide whether to sue either the owner or the keeper but cannot sue both parties simultaneously.

What is the Liability When Kids Are Involved?

Massachusetts has specific rules for younger dog owners and younger victims.

  • Parents Bear Responsibility. If the dog’s owner or keeper is a minor, their parents or guardians are legally responsible for any harm or damage caused by the dog.
  • Protection for Young Children. Massachusetts law considers children under seven too young to be held responsible for actions that might excuse dog owners from liability. It’s up to the owner to prove otherwise in a specific case.

What is the Landlord’s Liability?

The Massachusetts dog bite rule doesn’t mention landlords specifically, but legal cases have set precedents on this matter. Landlords aren’t held strictly liable like dog owners. Instead, for a landlord’s liability, the plaintiff usually needs to prove that the landlord had a duty to ensure safety and was negligent in that duty.

In situations where a tenant’s dog unexpectedly attacks someone, the landlord is usually not held responsible because they couldn’t predict the attack. However, there are exceptions. For instance, if a tenant repeatedly reports a dog’s aggressive behavior to the landlord, and the landlord fails to take action, leading to an attack in the building, the landlord may be liable. 

Additionally, if the landlord is also the dog’s keeper, as in a scenario where the landlord watches the tenant’s dog, and attacks someone while under their care, the landlord can be held liable as the keeper of the dog.

What If I Am Partially at Fault for My Dog Bite Injury?

If a dog bite victim was trespassing or provoking the dog, it could be an exception to the law, and the dog owner might not be held liable for the injuries. However, if the victim is a child under seven, it doesn’t matter if they were trespassing or teasing the dog. 

Massachusetts law considers young children not responsible for their actions around dogs, placing the responsibility on the dog owner to ensure the animal’s behavior around children.

What is Massachusetts’ Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Claims?

According to Massachusetts’ Statute of Limitations, you have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit, including for dog bites or attacks. Each state has its time limit for such cases, and if you wait too long, you can’t file a lawsuit. However, if you were a minor at the time of the dog attack, you have three years from your 18th birthday to bring a case. 

For example, if you were attacked at age 10, and your parents didn’t pursue a case then but the incident has had a lasting impact on your life, you can still file a lawsuit once you turn 18, but the three-year limit still applies from that point. In Massachusetts, to pursue legal action for a dog bite, you need to prove that the defendant is the dog’s owner. 

The process usually begins with a public hearing, which is essentially a criminal case, and then you can proceed with a civil case to seek compensation for damages. The burden of proof differs in criminal and civil cases. Even if the dog owner is not convicted in a criminal trial, you may still be successful in a civil lawsuit.

What Are the Damages Available in a Dog Bite Injury Claim?

Dog bite victims often need extensive medical care, and the aftermath can have long-lasting effects. While each injury is distinct, there are some common types of damage.

Economic Damages

Medical Bills

In a dog bite injury claim, victims can seek compensation for their medical expenses, which often include emergency room visits, surgeries, hospital stays, medication, and follow-up treatments. These bills can quickly add up, and recovering these costs is crucial for the victim’s financial stability.

Plastic Surgery

Dog bites can result in severe disfigurement or scarring, and victims may require plastic surgery to restore their appearance and functionality. Compensation for plastic surgery can help victims regain their confidence and quality of life.

Physical Therapy

Many dog bite injuries lead to physical impairment or loss of mobility. Physical therapy is often necessary for rehabilitation and can help victims regain strength, mobility, and independence.

Lost Wages

Dog bite injuries can result in missed work days or even a complete inability to work for a period. Compensation for lost wages covers the income that victims lose due to their injuries, ensuring they can meet their financial obligations.

Lost Earning Capacity

In severe cases, dog bite injuries may permanently affect a victim’s ability to earn a living. Compensation for lost earning capacity takes into account the long-term impact on a victim’s ability to work and earn an income.

Other Miscellaneous Expenses

Dog bite injuries can lead to various unforeseen expenses, such as transportation costs for medical appointments, home modifications to accommodate disabilities, or assistive devices like wheelchairs. Compensation for miscellaneous expenses helps victims address these additional financial burdens.

Non-Economic Damages

Pain and Suffering

In a dog bite injury claim, victims can seek compensation for the physical and emotional pain they endured as a result of the attack. This includes the immediate pain from the bite, as well as any ongoing discomfort or suffering associated with the injuries. Such compensation acknowledges the personal toll the incident has taken on the victim.

Permanent Scarring to Disfigurement

Dog bites can leave lasting scars or disfigurements that affect a person’s appearance and self-esteem. Victims have the right to seek damages to address these physical changes and the potential long-term impact on their self-confidence and overall well-being.


The emotional trauma from a dog bite can be substantial. Victims may suffer from anxiety, depression, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Compensation for counseling can assist victims in addressing the emotional impact of the incident and achieving mental well-being.

Loss of Quality of Life

Dog bite injuries can lead to a significant reduction in the victim’s quality of life. This might include limitations on activities they once enjoyed, difficulties in performing daily tasks, and a diminished overall sense of well-being. 

Compensation for the loss of quality of life helps victims adapt to their new circumstances and seek opportunities for a fulfilling life despite their injuries.

Social Anxiety 

Visible dog bite injuries can lead to social anxiety, embarrassment, and humiliation for victims. They may feel self-conscious about their appearance and avoid social interactions. Compensation recognizes the emotional distress caused by the visibility of the injuries and supports victims in overcoming these challenges and rebuilding their self-esteem.

Trusted Legal Advice and Representation for Every Dog Bite Victim in Massachusetts

Navigating the Massachusetts dog bite rule can be a complex journey, and understanding your rights and responsibilities is crucial. Whether you are a dog owner concerned about potential liability or a victim seeking justice after an incident, legal experience can make all the difference. 

At The Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates P.C., we handle cases related to the Massachusetts dog bite rule. With decades of experience, our dedicated team is well-equipped to guide you through the legal process, ensuring your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you find yourself in need of legal assistance regarding the Massachusetts dog bite rule, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our trusted personal injury lawyers are here to provide you with the right legal advice and representation, working diligently to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. 

Our law firm can also represent you in Boat Accidents, Reckless Driving Accidents, and Train Accidents. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us help you navigate the complexities of the law with confidence. Your peace of mind is our priority.


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