The plaintiff, a 23-year-old woman, was invited to the defendant’s home, along with two other female friends, to bid a final farewell to the defendant’s dog who was scheduled to be euthanized the following day. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, the basis for the euthanization of the dog was an attack on the defendant just one week earlier.
During her visit, the defendant requested that a picture be taken of the group of girls beside the dog. The defendant’s mother agreed to take the picture and while the girls and the dog were in the process of posing for the picture, the dog suddenly and without warning bit the plaintiff’s face, causing significant injuries to her lips and nose. The defendant’s mother immediately drove the plaintiff to the hospital. The defendant and her other friends identified two large pieces of human tissue torn from the plaintiff’s face, retrieved them, and took them to the hospital.
Due to the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries, she was transported to a Boston hospital where plastic surgeons assumed her care. The plaintiff underwent surgery that day to reattach a portion of the salvaged tissue in an effort to repair her severed lips and nose. With great skill, the plaintiff’s plastic surgeon successfully reconstituted her lips from the salvaged tissue and a skin graft. The plaintiff required additional surgery months later to further repair and reshape her lips and “debulk” the scar tissue that had formed about her lips and nose. Despite an overwhelmingly successful facial reconstruction, the plaintiff was nevertheless left with visible scars about her lips and nose.
As a result of the severe trauma of the dog bite; the pain associated with recovery; and the realization that the plaintiff was faced with permanent facial scarring, the plaintiff developed post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety requiring counseling sessions and medication.
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the dog’s owner pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140, Section 155, the so-called “Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute”. The resolution of this claim was somewhat complicated by an insurance coverage issue. The defendant was covered by a primary homeowner’s policy and by a second policy covering an out of state vacation home. The out-of-state insurer initially denied coverage on the grounds that exclusion for claims “arising out of” the premises applied.
Coverage counsel countered that the dog, unlike a pool or guest house, was as transitory as the owners themselves, and would likely be deemed insured by the court in a declaratory judgment action. While no case law on point existed in the foreign state, The reasoning of the court in the Massachusetts case of Callahan v. Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 50 Mass. App. Ct. 260 (2000) was expected to be relied upon by the plaintiff.
The case settled approximately one month prior to trial.
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