Massachusetts Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Can the dog owner be sued? Massachusetts laws on personal injury claims arising out of a dog bite or dog attack.

Massachusetts has a number of laws that relate to dog bite injuries suffered in the state. We'll discuss several of these laws in this article, starting with the time limits an injured person faces for filing a dog bite lawsuit in court. We'll then look at the text of Massachusetts's dog bite statute and its status as a "strict liability" state. Finally, we'll talk about the defenses a dog's owner might raise when facing a dog bite injury claim.

Time Limits for Massachusetts Dog Bite Lawsuits

Each state has a law known as a statute of limitations, which creates a time limit on filing a personal injury lawsuit -- including one stemming from dog bite injuries -- in the state's civil court system. In Massachusetts, a person has three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit.

It's very important to understand when the statute of limitations starts to run in your case and when the deadline falls. If you don't file a court case before the deadline, you'll almost surely be barred from bringing your case to court at all.

Massachusetts's Dog Bite Statute

Massachusetts has a specific written law, or statute, that covers dog bite injuries. It appears in Chapter 140, Section 155 of the Massachusetts General Laws. This law holds a dog's "owner or keeper" is liable if:

  • the dog causes personal injury or property damage, and
  • the injured person was not trespassing, committing another tort, or provoking the dog.

Massachusetts's law applies not only to dog bites, but to any injury a dog causes to another person. For instance, suppose you are standing on the sidewalk when a neighbor's dog runs up and jumps on you, knocking you down and causing injury. The Massachusetts dog bite statute would apply in that instance too. The law also applies to property damage caused by a dog, such as when a dog injures livestock, breaks a fence, or chews on things belonging to other people.

"Strict Liability" Dog Bite Law in Massachusetts

States handle dog bite cases differently. Most states are either "negligence" or "strict liability" states. Massachusetts falls into the latter category; it is a "strict liability" dog bite state. In "strict liability" states, dog owners are still liable for injuries their dogs cause even if the owner had no prior knowledge that the dog would bite or cause injury. In other words, someone who has been injured by a dog does not need to show fault on the part of the owner. And remember, Massachusetts's strict liability rule applies to both dog bites and other injuries caused by dogs. So if a dog knocks a person down or causes injury in other ways, but doesn't bite, the rule still applies.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims in Massachusetts

When a dog's owner faces a dog-related injury lawsuit in Massachusetts, the owner generally has two possible defenses: trespassing and provocation.

First, the Massachusetts dog bite law does not apply if the person who is injured was trespassing or committing another tort (or civil wrong) at the time. Trespassing occurs when a person is on private property without permission, and homeowner liability for trespasser injuries is limited in many ways, not only when dog-related injuries occurred.

Second, Massachusetts's dog injury statute specifies that the owner or keeper is not liable if a person is injured while "teasing, tormenting or abusing" the dog. These behaviors are all likely to provoke a dog to bite or attack when it would not otherwise do so. For instance, if a person is bitten after repeatedly poking a dog with a stick, the dog's owner may not be liable for the bite.

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