Articles Posted in Dog Attack Cases

Those three words are what most dog owners would say about their beloved pet, whenever someone has been the victim of a dog bite.  I know – both as a plaintiffs’ attorney representing victims of dog bites – as well as a dog lover myself.  Dogs are wonderful creatures:  They offer friendship, loyalty, unconditional love and much more.  And nine times out of ten, when someone’s dog attacks and injures another person, the dog thinks his/her owner is being threatened somehow and is acting to defend the owner.

But that doesn’t make the experience any less physically painful, or any less injurious for the person who’s attacked.  Not only is a dog bite extremely painful, for some people it can cause lasting psychological trauma.  The number of dog owners in this country increases each year, especially now that many hotels and hospitality organizations welcome them.  Letter carriers (formerly “mailmen” and mailwomen”) have always been at especially high risk for dog bites: Almost 6,000 USPS employees were attacked by dogs just in 2019. The problem is so widespread that the Postal Service promotes National Dog Bite Awareness Week each June to raise awareness of the problem, complete with an over-sized laminated card bearing the image of a large, snarling dog, baring its teeth.

But obviously, postal carriers aren’t the only victims of dog bites.  Not in the slightest. And as a Massachusetts dog bite lawyer who has handled numerous dog bite cases over the years, I can assure you that the dog involved isn’t typically “Cujo” (from the film of the same name) or a German Shepherd that you’d find on prison grounds. Yes. Little “Fifi” can cause a lot of damage, too.  If you doubt that, take a look at her teeth.

The recent horrific mauling death in Lowell of a 7 year old boy has led a lot of clients and friends to ask me, “What legal liability exists when someone is bitten by a dog?”   The answers can get technical, but I’ll try to address the outlines here.  First, however, I want to express my condolences to the young boy, whose name was  Javien Candelario.

Let’s talk about what you should do immediately after being bitten by a dog.  Note:  Unless the wounds you’ve suffered are life-threatening, it is extremely important that you take the following steps immediately after the attack, even though you or the person you are with has been bitten:

  • Unless the dog appears to be a stray and doesn’t have any apparent person who is with the animal, immediately get the name and address of the dog’s owner, dog walker, or whoever had custody of the dog at the time it attacked.
  • Use your (or someone’s) smart phone to immediately take pictures of the wound. This sounds gruesome, but you need to do it if you later take legal action and your lawyer has to prove the nature and extend of the injury.  Yes, there will be blood – don’t let that stop you.
  • Obviously, get medical attention without delay.
  • The next business day, file a report with the city or town animal control department, providing details of the attack.

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In my view, a good dog really is man’s (and woman’s) best friend — most of the time.

However, if you’ve ever been bitten by a dog – even your own – you know that a dog bite injury is painful and shocking. Victims of dog attacks can experience not only substantial physical injuries, but emotional injuries, as well. To be attacked by an animal can be extremely traumatic (no surprise as the animal is trying to rip your flesh off.) Dog bites can cause very severe lacerations and bleeding, with resulting scarrring and disfigurement. Here are just some of the more common injuries that can result from dog bites:

• Infection that is caused by dog saliva and bacteria from the dog’s mouth • Rabies • Nerve damage • Soft tissue damage • Fractured or broken bones • Arm, chest and leg injuries • Facial injuries • Head Injuries • Torn ligaments • Permanent disfigurement and scarring • Psychological trauma (depression and anxiety)

“A dog is man’s best friend.” That maxim has a lot of truth in it – dogs truly can be the kind of friend many people wish they had in their human relationships: Loyal, understanding, forgiving, compassionate. I myself have always loved dogs (though the less noise they make, the better.)

But it’s also true that man’s best friend can get ugly at times – often very unpredictably. When that happens, when a dog attacks a person – horrific physical and psychological injuries can often result. A dog’s teeth are extremely sharp, and their ability to inflict devastating injuries was given to them by their generic ancestors – wolves and prairie dogs. Most dogs can bite with incredible speed and ferocity. Their teeth are built to tear the flesh off of their victims or attackers with their powerful jaws. That’s not how most people see their own or their neighbor’s pet, but that is how evolution created them. Clearly, some breeds, such as pit bulls, are notorious for being unpredictably violent, but as a Dedham, Massachusetts dog bite lawyer, I can assure you that all dogs have it within them to be violent if provoked.

An example of this was seen recently with the pre-trial case settlement of a dog bite case in Massachusetts. The plaintiff was a 23-year-old woman, who was invited to a friend’s home along with two other friends. Why were they invited? To bid farewell to the friend’s dog, which was scheduled to be euthanized (i.e., put to sleep) the next day. Sounds kind of touching, doesn’t it? It would have been, but for the exception of one slight detail: The plaintiff’s friend never told the plaintiff that the reason the dog was going to be put to sleep, was that the dog had attacked her (the friend) just one week earlier. Just a minor detail ….

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.)