Massachusetts Dog Bite Law

In Massachusetts, claims involving dog bites and dog attacks are brought under M.G.L., Chapter 140: Section 155. The law states the owner or keeper of a dog is strictly liable for personal injuries, scarring and wrongful death caused by a dog attack. There is an exception if damage was sustained to a person who was trespassing or teasing a dog. When a minor owns the attacking dog, his or her parent or guardian is liable.

Here is the full text of the Massachusetts law regarding dog bites:

Section 155. If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, is under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action.

Compensation for Dog Bite and Dog Attack Injuries

A dog owner will often have homeowner's insurance coverage. However, many insurance companies recently adopted exclusions in their policies for injuries caused by dogs. If there is no insurance or an exclusion exists, then an injured party has the option of pursuing the owner of a dog individually.

Here are a couple of Massachusetts cases that illustrate how the law is interpreted:

Malchanoff v. Truehart, 354 Mass. 118 (1968)

The issue in the case was whether a three-year-old child was “teasing, tormenting or abusing” the dog.  The child was on the dog owner's property in Chelsea, Mass. The child was 8 ½ years old when the case went to trial. She testified that she had found the dog "eating a bone." She picked up another bone from the ground and offered it to the dog, then was bitten by the animal. The court found that her testimony was sufficient to prove she was not “teasing, tormenting or abusing” the dog so as to be precluded from recovery by M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155.

Gail Brown vs. Jacqueline Bolduc, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 909 (1990)

The plaintiff was a 32-year-old woman who was bitten by a Saint Bernard in a trailer in Salisbury, Mass. She suffered wounds to the nose which required 48 sutures and left some permanent disfigurement.

The plaintiff successfully brought a claim against the owner of the dog, who resided in the trailer, for violating M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155. However, she was not successful in bringing a separate claim for breach of statute and negligence against the defendant’s parents, who owned the property.

The Appeals Court ruled, “it would be preposterous on these facts to charge the parents with some obligation to intrude themselves and give warning to Sonia's guests about danger from a dog or to insist on other precautions. It was for the owner-keeper to handle her dog. See Splaine v. Eastern Dog Club, Inc., 306 Mass. 381 , 385-386 (1940).”

Patricia Rossi vs. Ernest V. Delduca, A, 344 Mass. 66 (1962)

The court ruled the 8-year-old plaintiff was not “committing a trespass” within the meaning of the phrase in M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155, and was not barred from recovering for her injuries after she was attacked by two Great Danes in Methuen, Mass. The girl was attacked in a field located at the rear of the owner’s property. She had walked down a dead-end street and onto a field after being frightened by another dog on her way home from school.

Furthermore, the court ruled that the parent of the minor child who is injured was able to recover consequential damages (medical bills) incurred by him by reason of such injuries from the owner or keeper of the dog under M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155, as amended.

Contact Breakstone, White & Gluck today for a free legal consultation

If you have a question concerning Massachusetts dog bite law, contact the Boston lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck. We offer a free legal consultation and can be reached at 800-379-1244 or use our contact form.