Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws

Massachusetts has several laws regulating animal ownership and setting guidelines for what will happen if a dog bites someone. As a pet owner in Boston, you need to know at least the basics of how the state’s dog bite law works. If your pet bites someone, the victim could file a lawsuit against you as the pet’s owner.

What Happens If Your Dog Bites Someone in Massachusetts?

 Massachusetts is a strict liability dog bite state. Section 155 of the Massachusetts General Laws states that if any dog damages someone’s property or causes an injury, the owner or keeper of the pet will be liable for such damage. The person your dog bit will not have to prove you were negligent or at fault for the incident to obtain compensation. The victim will only need to establish that you were the owner or controller of the dog at the time and the dog caused the injuries or property damages in question.

 A civil claim against you for a dog bite injury means your homeowners insurance company may have to pay for the victim’s medical bills, property repairs, lost wages and other damages. Your insurance premiums may increase due to the claim against you. One of the only defenses against a dog bite injury claim in Massachusetts is that the victim provoked the attack by tormenting, teasing, or abusing your dog, or the victim was trespassing or breaking another law at the time of the attack.

Will Animal Control Euthanize Your Dog?

 While you may have to pay for the victim’s damages if your dog bites someone in Massachusetts, you generally do not have to worry about animal control seizing or putting down your dog. If someone reports the attack, an animal control officer will order you to quarantine your pet for 10 days to check for rabies. This generally means your dog will have to stay inside your house for 10 days.

 If the victim decides to request a hearing against you, the odds are extremely low that it will end in pet euthanasia. This is only the case in the most extreme circumstances, such as a fatal dog attack. It is much more likely that, if anything, the courts will consider your dog a nuisance or, after severe incidents, a dangerous dog. These titles mean you may need to take extra steps in the care and control of your pet, such as using a muzzle on walks or switching to a shorter leash.

Do Doctors Have to Report Dog Bites in Massachusetts?

 If your dog bites someone, treat the incident as you would an auto accident. Trade information with the victim, including names, phone numbers and – on your end – the dog’s vaccination information. Report the incident to your homeowners insurance company as soon as possible. Since pets are technically property, this is the insurance company that will preside over a dog bite case. Assume the victim will go to the hospital, as most dog bite injuries require professional medical care.

 Know that if the victim does receive medical care, the doctor must report the incident to animal control authorities within 24 hours. Massachusetts law requires health care providers to report any dog, cat, ferret or livestock bites that injure a person to the city or town’s animal inspector. This will initiate the 10-day mandatory quarantine. In general, you will not face any other penalties for the dog bite incident unless you were breaking other animal control laws at the time. In this case, you might also have to pay a fine. 

 While you wait for the victim to obtain medical care and get a case together, consult with a Boston dog bite attorney. A lawyer can address any questions or concerns about a possible case against you. An attorney can prepare you for a hearing, if necessary, as well as explain your rights as a pet owner. It is important to cooperate with the victim while protecting your rights if your dog bites someone in Massachusetts.

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