Dog bite or attack claims are not uncommon. In the U.S., there are over 5 million reported instances of dog attacks on individuals each year. In Massachusetts, there are hundreds of dog bite claims brought by individuals who have sustained injuries ranging from bites on the hand to vicious assaults leaving the victims with permanent scars, internal organ injuries, and fatal injuries. 

Most dog bite cases occur because the animal was unleashed. Massachusetts has a statewide leash law whereby a dog must be on a leash when out in public unless the animal is in a designated city dog park where owners or walkers may have their pets run free. The fine for owners of unleashed dogs in public is $100. However, municipalities are free to have their own leash laws regulating circumstances where dogs can be unleashed, or that must be on a leash of a certain length. A leash must also be a chain or proper leash and not consist of a piece of twine or rope. 

Dog Bite Lawyer

For example, Boston has a law that allows dogs to be unleashed on the owner’s property so long as there is a fence surrounding the area. In a North Shore City, the owner is only required to ensure the dog is under control, meaning the animal may or may not be leashed. Andover also requires any leash to be at least 6 feet long while another North Shore City leaves the leash length to the owner’s discretion but so long as the animal is under control.

Dogs are required to be on leashes in wildlife areas unless it is a certified area and the dog is involved in hunting with its owner or is being trained. This only applies to state wildlife management areas and not to federal lands where the laws may be different. 

In regards to dogs that are tethered, our state law has strict guidelines designed to protect the dog’s health and well-being. Dogs cannot be tethered for more than 5 consecutive hours over any 24-hour period, but cannot be tethered for more than 15-minutes between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Dogs under the age of 6-months may not be on a tether at all. 

Special Needs Dogs

We have all seen dogs trained to accommodate special needs individuals such as those who are blind, deaf, or wheelchair bound. Many people with a physician-mandated disability that interferes with their ability to walk or ambulate safely can obtain a specially trained dog that is allowed to enter restaurants, buses, and retail establishments.

Owners and organizations training such animals must obtain special licenses from certain agencies. For instance, dogs being trained to assist persons who are deaf must be licensed from the Director of the Office of Deafness. Persons who eventually get these dogs must be identified with the agency, and their dogs outfitted with a brightly colored collar and leash. 

Liability of Dog Owners

In decades past, a person injured in a dog attack had to prove that the owner knew of or should have known that the dog was vicious or had bitten someone in the past. These so-called one bite laws no longer exist in most states and is not the law in Massachusetts. Here, strict liability applies to any dog attack with some exceptions. Strict liability applies when:

  1. A dog attacked you
  2. The dog’s owner is identified
  3. You sustained an injury

In these cases, you need only prove your damages. It does not matter if the dog was leashed or not when it bit or attacked you.  However, the dog owner has a defense if the owner demonstrates the following:

  • You were trespassing on his/her property
  • You provoked the animal

A provocation can be taunting the animal, throwing things at it, or otherwise abusing it. You are trespassing if you are on private property without the owner’s consent, or in an unauthorized area. Allegations of provocation are often leveled at victims, which can be difficult to disprove in some cases. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you on how to address such allegations. 

The owner of a dog that jumps on and injures a visually impaired person whether in a designated dog run or park or otherwise in a secure area is still liable for any injuries the victim sustains, even if the impaired person did not have a cane or other identification indicating that they are visually impaired. 

Damages in a Dog Bite Claim

The damages you can claim in a dog bite case depends on the nature and extent of your injuries. Damages may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Plastic surgery costs
  • Past and future income loss
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Punitive damages if a wrongful death case and the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent

Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer at Tetzel Law

Even in strict liability cases, you still need to demonstrate and prove your damages if you want to obtain the most compensation for your claim. Our Attorneys are highly experienced personal injury lawyers who have successfully handled numerous dog bite cases. Call for a free consultation at (617) 742-1700.