Owning a dog in Massachusetts is an extremely common practice. The Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140 Sections 137-174E have various law relative to owning a dog, and many dog owners are aware of such laws. For example, leash laws require that dogs are kept on a leash when being walked or when they are outdoors. Also, unless they are breeding their dog, most owners make sure their dogs are neutered or spayed. However, many owners are probably not knowledgeable about the laws relative to dog bites, and what the owner?s responsibilities are if their dog should bite another person.
Regardless of how kind and docile your animal is, Massachusetts law mandates that owners be vigilant about protecting people from being injured by your animals. Specifically, Chapter 140 Section 155 sets forth the rule regarding an owner or keeper?s liability regarding injuries caused by their dogs. The law states as follows:
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 tort, or 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 in such action.
MGL c. 140 § 155
What the above statute states, in simple terms, is that if a dog injures a person in any way, the owner or person in possession of the dog is liable for that injury (unless the person who was injured was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog). The liability against a dog owner for the injuries that it causes is based on the concept of Strict Liability. This means that regardless of whether the dog owner took reasonable care to protect people from their dog, if the dog causes injury to someone, the owner faces liability—unless that person was abusing or tormenting the dog. This is pretty significant liability, and leaves very little wiggle room for owners to escape liability. As such, dog owners need to be very careful to protect people who come on their property from being bitten or injured from their dogs.
Keep in mind, the statute says “if any dog shall do any damage to either the body or the property of any person…” This is a very, very, broad definition and could encompass any number of injuries or damages to people or to property.
Protecting Yourself From Liability
First, regardless of how friendly and happy your dog is, don’t be afraid to tell people not to go near the dog while you are walking them or while they are tied up. Although most dogs are friendly, dogs can still be fickle and protective of their home and their owners. Despite pet dogs being beloved members of many families, they are still animals. Because of that, it is best to be cautious when new people come onto your property. This is the best way to prevent accidents caused by your family pet.
If you have any knowledge at all that your dog may cause injury or if they have caused injury in the past, you need to be particularly vigilant. In such cases, it may even be necessary to go as far as putting your dog in a separate room while people are over. You can never be too cautious no matter how friendly and lovable your dog is, because the law is not sympathetic to dog injuries; and you, as the owner of the animal, will face severe penalties if any such injuries should occur.
Were You Injured By a Dog?
In addition to the dog owner?s vigilance, it is important to everyone to be vigilant about protecting themselves from injuries caused by dogs. It can be difficult for dog lovers to see a dog and not want to greet and pet him or her. However, as inviting and friendly as a dog looks, it is best to stay away from any unknown dogs, as they may not feel comfortable with you. Again, just because dogs are domesticated, beloved pets does not erase the fact that they are unpredictable animals; if you approach a dog or enter their territory and they do not feel comfortable with you, you are inviting the possibility of a dog bite injury.
If, despite your vigilance, you have been injured by a dog or an animal owned by another, the attorneys at Keches Law Group can speak to you and discuss your particular facts and rights relative to your injuries.