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Massachusetts Leash Law

Published in Personal Injury on October 1, 2019

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Dog attacks cause hundreds of significant injuries in the U.S. each year. Aggressive and loose dogs can cause puncture wounds, lacerations, broken bones and other serious injuries. To help prevent dog bites, Massachusetts has a strict leash law pet owners must follow. Several municipalities within the state have also passed citywide leash laws and pet regulations. Disobeying a leash law could lead to owner liability for a related dog bite lawsuit.

What is Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute?

Most states use either one-bite or strict liability dog bite laws. The Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute enforces a strict liability law in the state. The universal dog bite law holds pet owners strictly liable for injuries their dogs cause – whether they were negligent in controlling the dog or not. It will not matter, therefore, if the pet owner was obeying or disobeying the state’s leash law at the time of the incident. The pet owner will be liable for the victim’s damages in most situations regardless.

One of the exceptions to the state’s dog bite statute is if the victim provoked the attack in some way. Trespassing on the pet owner’s property, for example, could protect the pet owner from liability for a dog bite. Committing another type of wrongdoing could also forfeit the victim’s right to file a lawsuit against the owner for damages. If the victim instigated the bite by bothering or harming the dog, the victim may also not have a case.

Do Dogs Have to Be on a Leash by Law?

Massachusetts has a statewide leash law that prohibits having dogs off-leash in public places. In addition, Section 173 gives cities and towns the right to create local laws regarding the control of animals. Many municipalities in Massachusetts enforce leash laws within city limits. The state’s Trial Court Law Libraries have compiled a list of city leash laws organized alphabetically by the name of the city. Most cities in Massachusetts have laws prohibiting pet owners from allowing their dogs to run at large in public places.

Running at large refers to a dog being without a leash or some other form of pet owner control. Owners in most cities must keep their dogs on leashes or confined in vehicles in public places, as well as in private places unless they have the property owner’s permission to let their pets run at large. Many cities have designated dog parks where owners may let their pets off-leash. Boston’s laws for owning a pet state that owners must have their dogs under control when not at home or in a fenced-in yard.

Even a dog owner that obeyed Massachusetts’ leash law and reasonably controlled his or her pet could be liable for an attack under the state’s strict liability law. It will not matter if the pet owner followed the leash law or if the owner knew of the dog’s propensity to attack. No prior history of violence will still make the owner liable. If, however, the pet owner was breaking the leash law at the time of the attack, the victim could also have an injury case on the grounds of negligence.

Can My Dog Be Off-Leash in My Front Yard?

The answer to this question depends on the ordinances in your specific city or town. If you live in Boston, your dog may lawfully be without a leash in your front yard as long as you have a fence around your property. Boston’s dog leash laws allow owners to relinquish control of their pets in yards with safe fences.

Different cities may have different rules for allowing dogs to run at large on private properties. If you know you have a dangerous dog, post signs warning visitors of the potential hazards the dog presents. While you will most likely still be liable for an injury your dog causes, posting signs and taking other steps to prevent an attack could protect you from liability based on negligence.

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