Under Massachusetts law, a dog owner is strictly liable for any injury caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog has ever bit anyone before or possesses any violent tendencies. Specifically, the law states that a dog owner is responsible for any “damage to either the body or property of any person,” unless, of course, the person injured was trespassing or tormenting the dog at the time of the attack.
This statute applies evenly to all Boston dog owners, including those who live with their dogs in apartments and other types of rental properties. However, in situations in which the dog owner is a renter, there exists the possibility that another may also be held liable for a dog bite ― specifically, the landlord.
Landlord dog-bite liability
Given that no statute exists in Massachusetts on landlord dog-bite liability, common-law principles are applied by Massachusetts courts to determine negligence on the part of the landlord.
This generally means that a dog-bite victim must first be able to show that the landlord knew, or reasonably should have known, that the dog had “dangerous propensities” before they can be held accountable ― the mere presence of a dog on property owned by the landlord is not enough as common law generally regards dogs as harmless animals.
A Massachusetts court had an opportunity to apply this test in 2009 when a lawsuit was initiated against a landlord after a dog owned by one of the tenants attacked another tenant. The court noted that the breed of the dog involved in the attack ― a bit bull ― had been characterized by other courts as a breed “commonly known to be aggressive.”
Ultimately, the court ruled that even though the landlord cannot be held strictly liable based solely on the breed of a tenant’s dog, knowledge of the breed and its propensities may be considered when determining if the landlord was negligent or not.
Dog bites and homeowners insurance
It is important to note that dog bites are often covered under homeowner liability policies. In fact, according to a report issued by the Insurance Information Institute last year, roughly one-third of all homeowners insurance claims paid in 2011 were related to dog bites ― nearly $479 million in all. An average dog-bite claim in 2011 was $29,396, up 12.3 percent from 2010.
Consequently, if you or a loved one has been injured by another’s dog, it is important to speak with an experienced dog-bite attorney to ensure your rights are protects and that you obtain the compensation you are entitled to.