Massachusetts dog bite cases just got a little easier to bring in court and to win, at least those involving injuries caused by pit bull terriers. That’s good news for victims of these horrible attacks, which can scar a person for life not only physically, but in cases involving children and other vulnerable victims, emotionally as well.
A recent ruling by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, in the case of Nutt v. Florio, has held that in future dog bite cases involving pit bull terriers, plaintiffs will no longer have to first demonstrate that the attacking dog had a “vicious propensity,” or that it had previously attacked others, before being allowed to argue the case before a jury. Up until now, when bringing suit against a defendant for injuries suffered as the result of a dog bite or dog attack, plaintiffs in Massachusetts needed to first make an evidentiary showing that the defendant “knew or should have known” that the dog had “vicious propensities” or that it had attacked other persons previously. In these types of cases, the defendant is usually either the owner of the dog, the owner of a house where the dog was kept, or the landlord of a building where a tenant kept the dog. When such cases have been brought in the past in Massachusetts, the defendant’s attorney (who, in almost all cases, is actually the attorney representing the liability insurance company that insures the defendant through either a property owner’s or automobile owner’s liability policy) will review the plaintiff’s complaint that has been filed in court. If the defendant’s attorney sees that there is little evidence to support the claim that the defendant knew or should have known that the dog in question had either vicious propensities or had attacked others in the past, the defense will file what is known as a “Motion for Summary Judgment.” This motion is designed to get the case dismissed before trial, because up to present in Massachusetts, a plaintiff had to show that the defendant knew the dog displayed vicious propensities, or knew that it had attacked others previously, in order to bring a case before a judge or jury.
With this Appeals Court ruling, that requirement has now been eliminated – for cases involving attacks by pit bulls. In this case, the court found that a landlord could be held liable for injuries suffered by a 10-year-old boy injured by a pit bull attack, even though the dog had never before attacked anyone, the landlord was not aware of any previous aggressive behavior by the dog, and even though the landlord had no particular knowledge about the controversial breed’s propensities. This ruling means that, for cases alleging attacks and/or injuries caused by pit bulls, injured victims (plaintiffs) will no longer have to show that the defendant either knew or should have known that the dog had vicious propensities prior to the attack that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, in order to argue the case before a jury. It means that a jury will be allowed to hear that this breed of dog is known to be especially aggressive, and that they will apply ordinary standards of negligence in deciding whether a defendant should be held liable for a plaintiff’ injuries. (Because, of course, a lawsuit involving a dog bite is a negligence action alleging personal injuries.)