angry dog

A canine companion may be man’s best friend, but last year, one-third of homeowner’s insurance liability claim dollars– more than $489 million—was paid to settle dog bite claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute, the nation’s largest writer of homeowners insurance policies.

Massachusetts has a victim-friendly, strict liability dog-bite statute.  Under the law, an owner is responsible for dog-inflicted damage to an individual’s body or property unless the recipient was teasing or abusing the dog or was trespassing when the injury occurred. The statute presumes that a child under age seven injured by a canine was not trespassing, effectively making such cases indefensible.

The language of the Massachusetts dog-bite law imposes liability not only on Fido’s owner, but also on the animal’s keeper, denoting custody and control, which could expose, for example, trainers or dog-walkers. Also, the statute references damage, rather than specify bite, so plaintiffs have recovered in cases in which they were scratched or knocked down by a dog, and even when they tripped over a leash.

Common law traditionally viewed dogs as ordinarily harmless, and in the 18 states without a dog-bite law, the so-called “one-bite rule” that exposes owners to liability only if they had notice of their dogs’ propensity for causing such injuries, is alive and well.  In marked contrast, in the Bay State, repeat-offender pooches who previously have been ordered restrained by authorities could subject owners to triple damages for biting someone.  The Commonwealth also requires physicians treating a dog bite to report the case to a municipality’s animal control or dog officer within 24 hours.

The Insurance Information Institute reported 14,459 dog bite claims in 2012, and the average payout for such claims last year was $29,752. Not surprisingly, many homeowner’s insurance policies will not cover owners of certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls, Dobermans, German shepherds, mastiffs and akitas.  A proposed bill in the Massachusetts House that would prevent insurers from denying coverage to, or upping the premiums of, homeowner’s policies based on the breed of dog that roams the premises has yet to be acted on.

Victims of canine attacks may recover damages for pain and suffering, lost wages, psychological counseling and both immediate and future medical treatment and medications. If injured by a dog, take the following steps:

  • Seek medical attention
  • Obtain the owner’s/keeper’s name, address and telephone number
  • Obtain the contact information of any witnesses to the attack
  • Photograph the injuries
  • Track the bills and records for any medical treatment received
  • Identify the offending dog (perhaps thereby avoiding a painful series of rabies vaccinations).

If you have been injured by a dog, contact us promptly, and we’ll work tirelessly to preserve your remedies and rights under the law.