Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140, Section 155 allows a dog bite victim to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner or keeper. A dog bite victim can also sue under general principles of civil liability, and in extreme cases the victim may even file a criminal complaint. Although the average payout in a successful dog bite lawsuit exceeds $30,000, verdicts and settlements of hundreds of thousands of dollars are not unheard of in cases of serious injury.
Strict Liability under the Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute
Under the Massachusetts dog bite statute, a dog owner or keeper can be held liable without fault for any injuries or property damage caused by his dog. As long as the dog actually caused the injury or property damage (whether by biting someone or by some other means), the owner can be held responsible, even if the owner had no reason to expect the dog to bite and even if he pursued all available means to keep the dog from biting. If the dog’s owner or keeper is a minor, the victim can sue the minor’s parent or guardian.
Under common law principles of negligence, a dog owner can be held liable if he failed to exercise due care with respect to the handling of the dog, and that failure resulted in the victim’s injuries. In most dog bite cases, victims prefer to sue under the Massachusetts dog bite statute, because under the dog bite statute it is unnecessary to prove negligence. In certain cases, however, negligence might be the most viable theory of liability.
Examples of cases in which suing under negligence doctrine might makes sense include a case where a maintenance worker allows a stray dog into a children’s playground, or where the victim wishes to sue the landlord of an apartment complex for allowing one of the tenants to keep a dangerous dog. The ability to hold third parties liable for a dog bite under negligence law is particularly important, because it allows a dog bite victim to search for a “deep pockets” defendant, such as a corporate landlord, that can afford to pay a large judgment.
Some breeds of dogs, such a pit bulls and Rottweilers, are known for their aggressiveness. Under Massachusetts law, the owner of a dog that bites cannot be considered negligent simply for owning one of these breeds (unless local law bans the breed from within city or county limits). The breed of the dog can be taken into consideration, however, in combination with other factors.
If a dog owner or a third party deliberately provokes a dog into biting you, he could be charged with assault and battery, a criminal offense, or even assault with a deadly weapon. You can also file a lawsuit against the perpetrator. Certain other behavior, such as extreme negligence, can also support criminal charges. Even if you don’t file a civil lawsuit, a plea bargain by the defendant might include the payment of restitution to you.
Don’t try to fight a dog bite case alone. Find a Massachusetts dog bite lawyer in your area.