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Dog Attacks Are Often Serious

Our Attorneys Hold Dog Owners Responsible

Dog bites should be taken seriously. An attack by a dog can result in physical and emotional scarring, trauma and disfigurement, and injuries that stay with you for the rest of your life. Each year, thousands of people, especially children, need emergency medical treatment due to a serious dog attack. Many personal injury victims even die as a result of their attack.

If a dog bit you or a family member, you should not be responsible for the unanticipated medical costs. You also shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’ll lose a dog-owning friend if you take legal action after your dog attack. That’s why our dog attack lawyers want to help.

At the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone and the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone & Morelli, we’re committed to fighting for the rights of dog bite victims in Massachusetts and Connecticut. We know how to sensitively handle such complicated cases and obtain the maximum compensation for your injury and suffering. Contact our law firm and discover how we can help you. Call 1-800-WIN-WIN-1 and schedule your free case evaluation today.

Know The Law

When Is a Dog Owner Liable?

What happens when a dog bites and injures someone? In most — but not all — instances, dog owners are financially liable for any injury or property damage their pets cause.

Here’s what you need to know about dog-induced injury and liability, no matter which side of the leash you’re on.

Dog-Bite Statutes

More than half of U.S. states have laws that make dog owners liable almost any time their dogs injure someone. Although commonly called dog-bite statutes, most of these laws cover all kinds of dog-inflicted injuries, not just bites.

Dog-bite statutes are “strict liability” statutes because they impose liability without fault. That is, an injured person does not have to prove that the dog owner did anything wrong, just that the dog caused the injury. Typically, dog owners are liable under a dog-bite statute only if the dog directly caused the injury.

The One-Bite Rule

Massachusetts and Connecticut do not have so-called “one bite” laws. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take legal action against a dog owner after a dog attack.

This misleadingly named rule (dogs don’t necessarily get one “free” bite before the owner becomes liable, as discussed below) makes an owner legally responsible for an injury caused by a dog only if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury — for example, that the dog would be likely to bite. The victim must prove that the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

This rule, developed in court cases over many years, comes into play only if the state has no dog-bite statute or if the statute doesn’t apply — for example, if the statute covers only bites, and the dog caused the injury by knocking someone down.

How does an owner know a dog is dangerous? The dog doesn’t have to have already bitten someone. Other indications that might lead a court to believe the owner knew the dog was dangerous include:

  • Dog threatens people. Dog owners need to make sure their dog does not lunge at people or growl at them. If someone’s dog does this often, the dog owner could be held liable if the dog bites someone since the dog owner knew their animal had the potential to be violent.
  • Dog jumps on people. Many friendly dogs jump on people when greeting them. Unfortunately, these dogs sometimes injure people when they do so. Injuries caused by jumping dogs can sometimes be serious, especially if the dog is large and people are caught off guard.
  • Dog frightens people. Dogs that chase after people, constantly bark at passersby and other threatening behavior can be held liable if someone sustained an injury due to their threatening behavior.
  • Dog trained to fight. Dog fighting is against the law in Massachusetts and Connecticut. But that doesn’t stop certain people from training their dogs to fight. If you or a loved one has been attacked by a fighting dog, you might be able to obtain financial compensation for your injuries.
  • Complaints about dog. Dog owners should take complaints about their dog seriously. If they ignore complaints from neighbors or other people and the dog attacks you or someone else, the dog owner could be held responsible for an attack.
  • Dog’s breed considered dangerous. Laws vary throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. In general, most places do not have laws concerning so-called dangerous dog breeds, but there are exceptions. For instance, all military bases ban pit bulls.

Trying to determine if you have a legitimate legal case against a dog owner can be very complicated. That’s why we strongly urge you contact our law firm immediately.

Negligence Laws

Negligence is the third legal doctrine under which a dog owner may be found liable for injuries caused by a dog. A dog owner who is negligent (unreasonably careless) in handling a dog may be legally responsible if somebody is hurt and a reasonable owner would have foreseen the possibility of injury.

When it comes to defining negligence, broad rules are of little help. Whether or not someone acted negligently is a question that must be answered based on the facts of the situation. It’s possible that an owner of a certain breed of dog can be found negligent for not taking special precautions to prevent the dog from causing injury.

A Dog Owner’s Legal Defenses

If you are a dog owner whose dog has bitten someone, you may be able to defend yourself against the victim’s assertion that you are liable for the injuries. However, not all defenses can be used in all states and all situations. For example, some defenses may be available if the dog owner’s liability is based on a case law (“common law”) theory, but not under a dog-bite statute.

When defending against a dog bite claim, a dog owner should pay attention to who has the burden of proof: that is, which party is required to prove that its version of events is true. For example, some dog-bite statutes require the victim to prove that he or she wasn’t at fault; the dog owner doesn’t have to prove the victim was at fault.

The injured person provoked the dog. Certain acts — for example, hitting or teasing a dog — can almost always get the dog and its owner off the hook. However, innocent and unintentional provocation of a dog (for example, accidentally stepping on a dog’s tail) can also count as provocation that may let the dog owner off the hook. The motivation of the injured person is irrelevant to whether the dog was provoked.

The injured person knowingly took the risk of being injured by the dog. If you warn a visitor that your dog, which is in the back yard, might bite a stranger, or if you post a warning sign, you have a good argument that anyone who gets injured took on the risk of injury, knowingly.

In addition, people who make a living working with dogs — groomers, pet sitters, veterinarians, or kennel operators, for example — are generally presumed to voluntarily take the risk of a dog bite. However, in many states with dog-bite statutes, the owner is still liable even if the injured party knowingly took the risk.

The injured person was trespassing. In most states, dog owners aren’t liable to trespassers who are injured by a dog. However, unless you warn people off your property with signs or locked gates, you are considered to have given an “implied invitation” to members of the public to approach your door on common errands — for example, to speak with you, to try to sell you something, or to ask directions.

A general rule is that a dog owner who could reasonably expect someone to be on the property might be liable for any injury that person suffers. This rule is particularly important when it comes to children: There is a legal responsibility either to prevent the child from coming on the property or to keep the dog from injuring the child.

The injured person was unreasonably careless, and that carelessness contributed to the injury. The owner may not be liable if, for example, the injured person ignored a “Beware of Dog” sign.

Prevention: The Best Remedy

The most important piece of advice when it comes to legal liability for dog bites might be this: Do all you can to prevent your dog from injuring others and do all you can to protect yourself from becoming a dog bite victim. Take appropriate precautions and teach children how to behave around dogs.

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Your Next Step

“A dog bit me. What should I do?”

When you’ve been bitten by a dog, emotions can run high. Fear, panic, anxiety and physical pain can distract you from taking the important steps necessary after your dog bite.

  1. Identify the dog that bit you and who the owner is.
  2. Go to the doctor and have your physical issues addressed.
  3. Report the incident to your local animal control center and/or police department. Note the date you filed the report and with whom you spoke.
  4. Take photos of your injuries and the accident location. If you can without putting yourself in additional danger, take pictures of the dog that bit you. We may take additional photos to properly document the case.
  5. Contact us to begin the process of seeking compensation for the injuries and losses suffered.

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Be Prepared

Preventing Dog Attacks

As an owner, there are steps you can take to minimize the possibility of your dog attacking someone:

  • Spay or neuter your dog.
  • Do not teach your dog to play roughly.
  • Be sure your dog has up-to-date vaccinations.
  • Take your dog to obedience classes so it becomes accustomed to obeying voice commands.
  • Never leave babies or small children with a dog unless there is an adult with them.
  • Keep your dog in a fenced yard; do not allow it to roam.

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The Bottom Line

“How much is my dog bite worth?”

You might be wondering what your dog bite case is worth.  The value of your dog bite claim could depend on a variety of factors.  An attorney can consult with experts and look at the nature of the injuries.  Many dog bite injuries require surgery and may involve permanent damage to the extremities.  They might result in loss of fingers or toes and permanent facial scars.  The injuries can affect past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages or loss of earning capacity and past and future pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your circumstances.

Compensation for Your Dog Bite

Because most dog bite claims are settled by the pet owner’s homeowner insurance, a dog bite lawyer with our firm can deal with the insurance company and ensure you receive the settlement you deserve. If you or a loved one has been viciously attacked by a dog in Massachusetts, a dog bite lawyer can help you get compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Emotional trauma and anguish
  • Scarring / disfigurement
  • Lost wages

Insurance Companies and Dog Bites

In many cases, you or your child might get injured by a friend, neighbor or family member’s dog.  You might feel extremely reluctant to file a dog bite lawsuit against someone you know.  Keep in mind, however, that dog bite claims typically involve a negotiation between your attorney and the insurance company.  Generally, a homeowner’s insurance policy covers such losses. We use discretion and skillfully negotiate with the insurance company to obtain a fair settlement.

Most homeowner insurance policies cover dog bite claims. In fact, under Massachusetts law the owner of the dog is strictly liable for any injuries.

The law also recognizes the right for the victim of a dog attack to pursue non-owners of property such as landlords that knowingly allow dangerous dogs to be kept on the property.

Though you may be able to collect from the dog owner’s insurance company, do not sign anything until you speak with one of our experienced attorneys. You may be due more than what the insurance company offers. That’s why it’s critical that you contact us as soon as possible and schedule a free case evaluation.

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