“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 ….
While at the house, the friend asked her mother to take a picture of all the women with the dog. While the women were in the process of posing for the picture, the dog suddenly attacked the plaintiff, biting her face, tearing into her lips and nose. As an example of just how much damage a dog can inflict in just a couple of seconds, so much skin and tissue were torn off the plaintiff’s face that the defendant and the other women present were able to retrieve two large pieces of human tissue torn from the plaintiff’s face, which they took to the hospital after the attack. Luckily, specialist cosmetic surgeons were able to reconstruct the plaintiff’s lips by using the recovered tissue and a separate skin graft. After the initial surgery, the plaintiff required additional surgery several months later to further repair the damage from the attack. Despite these efforts, the plaintiff ended up with permanent facial scarring, and suffered severe psychological damage necessitating psychotherapy and psychiatric medication. This case settled approximately one month prior to trial.
Thankfully, there is a special statute in Massachusetts that imposes liability on the owner of a dog for Massachusetts dog bites and dog attacks. The statute is found in Massachusetts General Laws Ch. 140, §155 (known in legal circles as the “Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute”). Commonly, coverage for this kind of liability is provided through the dog owners’ homeowners’ insurance policy (and sometimes renters’ insurance policies.) For the plaintiff here, her case settled approximately one month before trial.
If no liability insurance policy is available, and if the defendant were either not willing or not able to settle the case using his own financial resources, then a plaintiff would have to proceed to trial. If successful in securing a favorable verdict and financial judgment either before a jury or a judge, the plaintiff would then have to attach any assets the defendant might have, and seek to liquidate those assets to satisfy the judgment. Doing this can be very difficult and time-consuming.
So, the lessons from a case like this are two-fold, for both dog owners and non-owners: If you own a dog, check with your homeowners (or renters) insurance company to make sure that your policy provides coverage for dog bites. And if you don’t own a dog but do like dogs, just be sure to always use caution when approaching someone else’s dog, or a dog whose disposition you are unfamiliar with. No amount of potential future financial settlement is worth suffering a dog attack.
If you or someone you know has suffered a dog bite or been attacked by a dog, contact us for a free consultation. We are very experienced in these kinds of cases, and can provide you with the best advice that you can get.