It happened again – in April. This time, six pit bulls attacked a woman in Taunton. She survived only because a police officer was on the scene immediately and was able to distract the pit bulls. As you may know, not all victims of pit bull attacks in Massachusetts have been so fortunate.
Concern over pit bulls in our state has been rising since 2017 when a seven-year-old boy in Lowell was killed in a pit bull attack. Are there laws in Massachusetts that deal specifically with pit bulls? And what are your rights if you’re injured in a pit bull attack in this state?
If you’ll continue reading, those questions and more are about to be answered in this brief discussion of pit bulls, dog attacks, and personal injury law in the state of Massachusetts.
ARE THERE STILL LAWS IN MASSACHUSETTS THAT TARGET PIT BULLS?
Prior to 2012, Boston, Worchester, Malden, and Everett enforced municipal statutes that required owners to muzzle pit bulls (and bull terriers or mixes) in public settings within city limits.
Those statutes were abolished in 2012 when Governor Deval Patrick signed a state law to block local, breed-specific ordinances after animal rights activists contended that breed-specific ordinances do not reduce the number of dog bites and dog attacks.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals supported that legislation in 2012. Speaking for the SPCA, Kara Holmquist told the Boston Globe, “Overall, there have been no studies that have shown that targeting a specific breed works to prevent dog bites.”
EXACTLY WHAT DOES THE 2012 LAW SAY?
The 2012 state law provides that “No city or town shall regulate dogs in a manner that is specific to breed.” The law even adds that “no dog shall be deemed dangerous … based upon the breed of such dog.”
But recent attacks by pit bulls in Massachusetts have reignited calls for breed-specific legislation to regulate pit bulls in particular.
Alan Beck, a professor at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Globe, “We’re saying there are some breeds that … don’t do well in urban America.” Professor Beck added, “We outlaw products that have a much lower fatality rate than pit bulls.”
ARE DOG OWNERS LIABLE FOR DOG BITES IN THIS STATE?
What can happen if you are attacked by a pit bull or by another dog in Massachusetts? Can you take legal action against a dog’s owner and be compensated for your medical expenses? The answer to that question is yes.
In fact, in dog bite cases, Massachusetts is a “strict liability” state, which means that a victim does not need to prove anything about the dog’s history or the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressive nature. Dog owners are liable in this state for dog bites and dog attacks if:
- The dog bites or attacks caused someone to suffer a personal injury or injuries.
- The victim was not trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking the dog.
In a strict liability state like Massachusetts, proving these two elements of a personal injury claim arising from a dog attack is all that the victim has to do to prevail and win compensation. Victims in these cases are entitled to reimbursement for their medical bills, lost wages, and more.
HOW MANY DOG BITES HAPPEN EACH YEAR? HOW MANY ARE FATAL?
In some states, to prevail with a dog bite-related injury claim, dog bite victims must prove that the dog bit or attacked someone previously and that the dog’s owner knew about the animal’s aggressive nature.
Massachusetts imposes no such requirement on dog bite victims who are seeking compensation, so it’s easier in this state to succeed with a personal injury claim against a dog owner.
Every year, over four million people in the U.S. sustain dog bites and suffer dog attacks. Almost half of all dog bite victims are children. Roughly two or three dozen people are killed each year by dogs in the U.S.
WHAT CAN BE THE CONSEQUENCES OF DOG BITES AND ATTACKS?
How dangerous are dog bites? Summon paramedics or get to a hospital emergency room immediately after a dog bite happens. If a dog showed rabies symptoms – or if it can’t be found – a doctor can and may order vaccinations for rabies.
Dog bites can also cause severe tissue and muscle damage, lacerations, and disfigurement that will in some cases be permanent.
Massachusetts dog owners need to understand both the law – especially the strict liability part – and their homeowners’ insurance policies, which should provide coverage to home-and-dog owners named as defendants in personal injury cases arising from dog bites.
And while the state of Massachusetts has had no breed-specific dog regulations since 2012, homeowners insurance companies will want to know if you own a pit bull or another dog considered dangerous. If you do, expect to pay more for homeowners insurance.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE WHEN A DOG BITE HAPPENS?
After a dog bite, the victim (or the parent if the victim is a child, which is often the case with dog bites) must take many of the same steps you would take after a traffic accident:
- Seek medical treatment immediately.
- Make sure that you get the dog owner’s name, address, phone number, and homeowners insurance company contact information.
- Take photos of the dog, your injuries, and the scene where the attack occurred. If there were witnesses, you may need their statements or testimony, so try to get contact details. Make and keep copies of all insurance, legal, and medical documents related to the case.
- Contact an experienced Boston personal injury attorney as soon as you’ve obtained medical treatment. Your attorney will discuss your rights and determine if you are legally entitled to compensation.
After a dog bite, do not sign any legal papers or insurance documents before you’ve been advised by an experienced Boston personal injury attorney. You might accept a settlement offer for a figure that is far below the actual value of your claim.
HOW WILL A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER HELP YOU?
Moreover, if you accept a settlement offer without an attorney’s advice, you may be forfeiting your right to additional negotiations or legal action. A good Massachusetts injury lawyer can almost always obtain a better settlement amount on a dog bite victim’s behalf.
You can’t take any chances with a dog bite – especially if the victim is your child. After any dog bite incident in Massachusetts, seek medical help immediately and then consult a personal injury lawyer with experience representing dog bite victims.
If you’re a dog bite injury victim in Massachusetts, the law is strict liability, so the law is on your side, but you must take the step to contact a reliable Massachusetts personal injury lawyer. It’s the right thing to do because nothing is a higher priority than your health and your future.
Eric J. Parker, the Managing Partner of Parker Scheer LLP, has over 30 years’ experience representing victims in complex personal injury cases. He is active in many legal associations and has won many awards for performance and principles. Eric believes in giving back to the community and supports young scholars and law students by acting as faculty and mentor to them.