By Michael R. Mancinelli, Associate Attorney
Dog bites are painful and traumatic—the mental scars are often worse than the physical ones. Nevertheless, some dog bite victims hesitate to pursue compensation for their pain and suffering. Why? In some instances, the victim feels empathy for the dog or its owner. Many victims own a dog or grew up with dogs of their own and there is little appetite to have a dog’s owner pay for a settlement or judgment out-of-pocket.
What Massachusetts dog bite victims should understand, however, is that the typical homeowner’s insurance policy covers dog bites. With strict liability, when a dog bites and its owner has homeowner’s insurance, there is a claim available against the insurance that could potentially settle without ever having to step foot in a court room and without the owner ever having to pay anything out-of-pocket.
In Massachusetts, when a dog bites a person, there is no requirement of proving that its owner was negligent. Instead, Massachusetts law imposes strict liability upon dog owners:
If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper . . . 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.
See Mass. Gen. L. Ch. 140, sec. 155 (typically known as the Massachusetts “Dog Bite Statute”).
In simple terms, if a dog bites a person, and the person was not trespassing or harming the dog in some way, then the dog’s owner is liable for the victim’s injuries without question. It is also important to note that the plain language of the statute is not limited to bites. “Any damage” can encompass a number of situations—like when a dog knocks over a person, causes another person to trip, scratches an eye, or lunges and causes another person to fall. So long as the dog causes damage, its owner is liable.
Typically, when a dog bites a person, the dog owner’s insurance policy will compensate the victim. Most homeowner’s insurance and renter’s insurance policies include personal liability provisions that cover dog bites. With these provisions in place, dog bite victims can demand compensation from the dog owner’s insurance company. Such compensation typically considers pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and permanent scarring.
Most dog bite claims will settle with an insurance company out of court before any lawsuit is filed. Litigation, however, is sometimes necessary to reach the best result possible. Either way, a Massachusetts licensed attorney can put a dog bite victim in the best position possible to obtain fair compensation from an insurance company.
BENEFIT FROM WYNN & WYNN’S LOCAL EXPERIENCE
If you or a family member was harmed by a dog in Massachusetts, contact Wynn & Wynn today and benefit from our decades of experience with insurance companies and the Massachusetts court system. There is a strict three-year deadline to file a claim so it is important to start the process as soon as possible.
We have successfully represented dog bite victims from all over Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands, including communities in Bristol County, Plymouth County, Norfolk County, and Barnstable County like Raynham, Taunton, Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Brockton, Easton, Norton, Mansfield, Berkley, Dighton, Rehoboth, Seekonk, Fall River, Swansea, Lakeville, Middleborough, Carver, Plymouth, Halifax, Rochester, New Bedford, Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett, Fairhaven, Dartmouth, Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee, and Barnstable.