They say that a dog is a man’s best friend, yet that takes on quite a different meaning if you are the victim of a dog bite. It’s important to understand the steps you need to take if you suffer an unprovoked attack, and what your rights and responsibilities are as the dog owner.
Each year, more than 350,000 dog bite victims are seen in emergency rooms, and approximately 750,000 victims receive medical attention. Understanding your role in the process helps with pending litigation that might be necessary as a result of the unfortunate incident.
Taking a bite out of the law
Most states make dog owners liable for all dog bites when a person is bitten. A minority require the victim prove that the dog was vicious or that the dog owner or another party caused the incident through negligence or by violating an animal control law (like a leash law).
In Massachusetts, a dog owner or keeper is liable for damages if the dog causes personal injury or property damage, and the injured person was not trespassing or provoking the dog. Sometimes, the victim’s legal damages are covered by homeowners and renters insurance policies purchased by dog owners, or by general liability policies that insure businesses and public entities.
If you find yourself the victim of a dog bite, there are several steps you need to take to ensure the incident is recorded, should the bite be severe enough to warrant legal action.
- Start by obtaining the names and addresses of witnesses, the dog owner and the people who had custody of the dog when it bit you.
- Ask the dog owner to provide you with copies of the dog’s rabies vaccination records and their homeowners or renters insurance (meaning the policy booklet and the declarations page showing their name, address and monetary limits of coverage).
- Take photographs of the wounds and the area where the bite happened, including any “beware of dog” signs or the lack of signs.
- See a doctor to document your dog bite incident and obtain treatment.
- Go to the agency that does animal control in your jurisdiction and make a report, then cooperate fully with the investigating officers.
Compile all this information as soon as possible after the attack to ensure you follow your state’s regulations. If your injuries are severe, hire a lawyer who can bring your case against the dog owner.
Dog owners have rights, too
While dog owners are usually liable when their dog bites, the law affords them some protection. Many states have a statute of limitations; in Massachusetts, it is three years from the date of the attack. This requires that a claim be either settled or filed at the courts within a certain time frame.
The law also recognizes that dogs are animals and that an attack might have been provoked by the other party. In Massachusetts, if someone teases, torments or abuses a dog at the time of the attack, the owners of the dog might not be liable. Another exception applies to trespassers, or a situation where someone broke into a home and was injured by the dog—the law considers the suffering the dog experienced at the time of the attack.
If you own a dog, talk to your insurance company to ensure you have the proper insurance in case of a dog-related injury.
Our services get the “paws of approval”
Whether you are a dog owner or victim of an attack, it can be a traumatic experience for all parties involved. Knowing your rights ensures peace of mind, and while we hope you don’t have to contact us to learn about your legal options, we are here to navigate the process with you.