Pit Bull Attack Death A Painful Reminder: Dogs Are Sometimes Deadly

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.

Identifying the name and address of the dog’s owner is critically important, on two levels:  1)  Medically, if the dog is a stray and you therefore cannot determine from the owner if the dog has had rabies shots, you may be required to submit to treatment for rabies, which is an often painful process.  2) Legally, if you cannot identify the owner, you will likely be prevented from ever claiming damages against that person for the attack you suffered.  That is a very real risk.

This leads us to several common questions surrounding dog bites, which typically are:

Is a dog owner always liable if his/her dog bites someone?

When it comes to injuries caused by dogs – whether through a bite or being knocked over, and other non-bite dog injuries, Massachusetts has what is called a “strict liability” law:  This means that someone who either owns or keeps a dog is strictly liable for any personal injuries that dog causes to another person.  Those injuries almost always involve two types:  Physical scarring & disfigurement, and psychological/emotional damages that persist after the attack – many times for a lifetime.  In adults, physical injuries tend to be located on the arms and legs; in children, they tend to be on the face due to children’s small size and the fact that they usually fall down when attacked.  As a Massachusetts injury attorney that handles dog bite cases, I can assure you:  These types of injuries can be extremely severe – and never really leave someone completely.  Bites are not the only way a dog attack can injure someone – another common situation is where a person is chased on a bicycle by a dog, and knocked off the bike with serious injuries resulting.

What Do I Have To Prove To Recover Damages?

An injured plaintiff isn’t required to prove that the dog attacked someone previously, nor does the plaintiff have to prove that the dog has a vicious propensity.  However, an injured plaintiff does have to establish that he or she had not been teasing or tormented the animal at the time of the attack, and the victim must also prove that he or she wasn’t trespassing at the time of the attack.  When young children are the victims, the law provides a presumption that the dog was not being teased or tormented.

Who Pays for My Injuries?  

As of the date of this post, anyway, most dog bite injuries are covered by homeowner’s insurance (also some renter’s insurance policies, as well.)  In Massachusetts, homeowner’s and many renter’s insurance policies cover liability for bodily injury damages and in some cases medical coverage to the victim of the attack.  Advising a person in such a situation exactly, requires a dog bite lawyer that has handled many of these cases.

What is the typical value of a Massachusetts dog bite case?

This will depend upon the extent and severity of the injuries involved, exactly where the injuries are located on the body, whether any permanent scarring is involved, and what degree of psychological harm is involved.  It will also depend on any lost income you may have suffered from the dog attack, and medical expenses as well.  This question is answered on a case-by-case basis, but we have consistently produced superior results for our dog bite clients.

How long will my case take?

The most important factor in answering this question is medical:  In order for your attorney to present a full and complete demand for damages in your case, you must first reach what is called a “medical end result.”  This refers to the point in time where you have reached a medical result that is not going to improve any further.  It is the point in time where you and your treating physicians say “This is as good as (the patient’s recovery) is going to get.”  Hopefully, you will be fully recovered, but in any case, after this point is reached, your attorney will engage in negotiations with the insurance company involved, to hopefully settle the case.

Will I have to go to court? 

It’s possible, but most (but not all) Massachusetts dog bite cases settle before proceeding into a trial.

What if the dog owner doesn’t have any insurance?

If the dog keeper or owner owns a home, they will probably have a homeowner’s insurance policy that will cover this type of claim.   But, if there is no insurance present, or if the policy excludes coverage dog attack injuries, things get more difficult:  The only option in that event is to sue the dog owner individually, seeking payment from that person’s own assets.

Important Tip For Dog Owners Be sure to check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company to verify that dog attack injuries are covered in your policy.  If they aren’t, you would be well served to find another insurance  company

Whatever else you do, after you’ve received medical treatment for a dog bite or dog attack, seek out the legal counsel of an experienced Massachusetts dog bite law firm.  These cases require solid experience and proven results.