Massachusetts Dog Bite Law

If you’re a pet owner in Massachusetts, it’s important to be informed about the state’s dog bite law. Knowing your rights and responsibilities can help keep both people and pets safe.

This article breaks down the key points of Massachusetts’ dog bite laws so that you are prepared if there is ever an incident. From what constitutes a “bite” to when owners may be held liable for damages, learn about everything related to this topic now!

Overview of Dog Bite Laws in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, dog bite laws vary depending on the severity of the incident and where it took place. Understanding these nuances is important for pet owners in order to ensure that their furry family members are kept safe.

The most common type of law relating to dogs is a civil liability statute, which states that dog owners may be held responsible for any injury or property damage caused by their animal.

This includes medical bills, pain and suffering as well as loss of income due to an inability to work. The state also has strict leash laws designed to protect people from being attacked by unrestrained animals out in public areas like parks or sidewalks.

It is illegal for a person’s dog to run free unless they are designated off-leash zones such as beaches or fields specifically reserved for this purpose.

Additionally, if an owner brings their pet into someone else’s home without permission they can be held liable if the animal causes any damage or harm while inside the residence.

Massachusetts also has Criminal Liability statutes which hold individuals accountable when there is a more severe incident such as permanent disfigurement resulting from a bite, one involving multiple victims or death due to aggressive behavior from an uncontrolled dog.

If found guilty under criminal liability statutes then punishment will depend on the severity of the attack but can include jail time along with hefty fines and other legal penalties associated with breaking these laws pertaining pets within state boundaries.

Proving Liability After a Dog Attack

After a dog attack, the first step in proving liability is to gather evidence. This includes taking pictures of the injuries and area, getting witness statements and any medical records that were generated as a result of the incident.

In addition, it’s important to contact animal control or local law enforcement who can investigate further and confirm whether the attacking dog had any prior history of aggression.

In order to establish legal responsibility for damages resulting from an attack by someone else’s pet, there are several elements that must be satisfied.

Generally speaking, these include proof that:

  • 1) the owner was negligent in controlling their pet;
  • 2) this negligence caused injury;
  • 3) said injury resulted in compensatory damages;
  • 4) those damages weren’t assumed through the voluntary assumption of risk or contributory negligence on behalf of the victim.

To prove negligence on behalf of an owner requires demonstrating that they either knew or should have known about their pet’s potential for danger while not taking necessary steps to prevent harm coming to others.

This can include failing to keep their pet confined behind a secure fence or leash when outside, not warning people if they know their animal has bitten before (or been aggressive), leaving children alone with animals without proper supervision, etcetera.

If it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that such actions (or lack thereof) led directly to an attack causing physical damage then liability may be assigned accordingly regardless if there was no malicious intent involved.

Damages Recoverable for Dog Bites in Massachusetts

In the event of a dog bite, Massachusetts law provides certain rights to victims. Depending on the situation, those affected may be able to recover damages through a personal injury claim or lawsuit.

Dog owners in Massachusetts are strictly liable for any harm their pets cause and must compensate victims for any resulting property damage and medical expenses.

The type of damages available to dog bite victims vary from case to case but can often include:

  • – Compensation for pain and suffering
  • – Coverage of medical bills incurred as a result of the incident
  • – Reimbursement for lost wages due to time away from work during recovery
  • – Punitive damages (in some cases) if it can be shown that the owner knew about their pet’s aggressive behavior before the incident occurred

Additionally, an injured party has two years after an attack occurs in which they may file a lawsuit seeking compensation. It is important that individuals who have been attacked by a dog consult with an experienced attorney promptly so they understand all their legal options.

Doing so will also ensure that all relevant evidence is preserved while still fresh and help maximize one’s chances at receiving full financial compensation from all responsible parties.

Dog Owner’s Strict Liability and Negligence

When it comes to pet ownership, owners must be aware of their legal responsibility for the safety and well-being of others.

Dog owners are held strictly liable for any injuries caused by their dog – regardless of whether or not they had knowledge that the animal posed a danger.

Strict liability means that if the owner’s dog bites someone, causes property damage, or otherwise injures another person, then the owner is financially responsible and can be sued in court.

In addition to strict liability laws, most states have negligence laws when it comes to owning animals. This means that if an owner fails to adequately train or control their pet, they can be found negligent and also held accountable for damages caused by their animal’s behavior.

Negligence could include not properly restraining your pet while out in public places such as parks; failing to prevent access through fences; allowing your pet off-leash at all times; failing to provide proper medical care; or simply being unaware of how aggressive your dog may behave around other people and pets.

It’s important for any prospective dog owner understand these laws before making the decision to bring a four-legged friend into their life so they know what will expected from them legally as well as ethically when it comes time caring for Fido!

Here are some key points about dog ownership:

• Strict Liability – If your pooch causes harm due injury or property damage you’ll be held accountable regardless of knowing prior knowledge

• Negligence – Dogs must be trained properly so they don’t cause harm too others due lack of control

• Awareness – Understand why certain breeds might require extra training/control/care

Exception to the Rule of Strict Liability for Dog Owners

In most cases, dog owners are held strictly liable for any damages their pet may cause.

This means that the owner is accountable for any harm their animal causes regardless of whether they knew or should have known about their pet’s unsafe behavior.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule which can result in reduced liability for the owner.

The first exception applies when an injured party was trespassing on private property and is bitten by a dog while present without permission.

In these situations, it is possible that the dog owner will not be held fully responsible if they can prove that they had taken reasonable steps to protect against trespassers such as putting up “No Trespassing” signs or using fencing around their property.

Another potential exception involves provocation; if an individual provokes a dog into attacking them then the court may determine that some or all of the responsibility lies with them instead of solely with the owner.

For example, if someone enters another person’s home uninvited and tries to interact with a normally docile family pet who then attacks then it could be argued that at least some degree of fault lies with the intruder rather than just on its owner alone.

Role of “Scienter” in Determining Fault for a Dog Bite Incident

The term “scienter” is an important element in determining fault for a dog bite incident. Scienter refers to the knowledge, or lack thereof, of what harm could result from certain actions taken by a person with regards to their pet animal.

Specifically, scienter relates to whether or not the owner knew that their pet was likely to be aggressive and cause injury or damage when it came into contact with another person.

When assessing liability for a dog bite incident, courts may take into account whether the owner had any prior knowledge that their pet may have been dangerous before allowing them into public spaces.

This can include taking note of any previous instances where the animal has exhibited threatening behaviors such as growling or snapping at people near them; if they had received warnings from other people about their pet’s behavior; and if they had made efforts to train and restrain their animal properly.

The presence of this type of evidence can help determine whether an individual should be held responsible for any resulting damages caused by their pet’s aggression towards someone else – thus making scienter an integral part in establishing fault for a dog bite incident.

In addition, courts will also assess whether reasonable care was taken by the defendant (i.e., owner) in order to protect others from potential harm caused by their pets – such as ensuring that fences are securely installed around yards containing animals known to be potentially dangerous; enforcing proper leash laws; providing adequate supervision while walking dogs off-leash outdoors; and refraining from allowing pets access inside establishments which do not allow animals on premises unless there is reliable proof that said animal poses no threat whatsoever towards anyone present therein.

By considering all these aspects together when deciding on who should bear responsibility for damages inflicted due to a dog bite incident, one can then establish how much culpability rests upon each party involved based on both legal precedent and general social norms surrounding appropriate behavior involving companion animals in public settings today.

Common Defenses Used By Defendants In A Dog Bite Case

It is not uncommon for defendants in a dog bite case to attempt to use certain defenses. These are often meant to absolve themselves of any accountability or place blame elsewhere instead. Some of the most common defenses include:

The victim provoked the animal – This defense claims that the person who was bitten did something to provoke or anger the animal into attacking them, making them partially responsible for what happened. Examples may include teasing, hitting, trying to take away food and toys, loud noises etc.

Lack of knowledge – The defendant may argue they were unaware their pet had a propensity towards aggression and that they should not be held accountable since they lacked this knowledge prior to the event taking place.

They will typically try and present evidence such as veterinary records showing no signs of aggression in past visits etc., as well as testimony from those who interacted with their pet on a regular basis indicating it seemed friendly and non-aggressive while under their care.

Statute Of Limitations – In some cases where significant time has passed between when an incident occurred and when legal action is taken against them (the statute of limitations), defendants can sometimes claim limitation on liability due to this delay in bringing forth legal action against them by plaintiff’s counsel or attorneys representing victims in these cases.


In conclusion, Massachusetts has a strict liability statute when it comes to dog bites. This means that the owner of the dog is responsible for any damages caused by their pet, regardless of negligence or not.

The exception to this rule is if the dog was provoked or teased by someone other than its owner which led to the attack. In addition, even if an owner had no knowledge of their dog’s tendency towards aggression, they can still be held liable under scienter law in some cases.

Lastly, those defending against a claim may use certain defenses such as provocation and contributory negligence but these are typically difficult to prove. Knowing all this information will help any person involved in a case dealing with dog bite laws in Massachusetts better understand how these laws work and what options are available to them.


Q: What is the Massachusetts dog bite law?

A: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a strict liability statute for animal bites and attacks, requiring owners to pay compensation for any injury or damage caused by their pet.

Under this law, an owner is liable regardless of whether or not they knew or should have known about their pet’s dangerous propensities.

This means that even if the owner had no reason to believe that their pet would act in a certain way, such as biting someone, they are still responsible under the law.

Q: Who is considered an “owner” according to Massachusetts law?

A: According to Section 155 of Chapter 140 of the General Laws in Massachusetts, anyone who owns or keeps a dog can be held liable as an “owner” under the state’s dog bite laws.

This includes landlords and property managers who allow tenants with pets on their premises and individuals who merely care for dogs but do not technically own them.

Q: When does my claim need to be filed?

A: It depends on your specific situation; however, generally speaking it is important to file a claim within three years from when you were injured due to someone else’s negligence involving a dog bite incident in order for it to be valid under statutory time limits set out by local laws.

If you wait longer than this period of time before filing your claim then it may become invalidated which could affect potential compensation amounts awarded later down the line during legal proceedings.

Q: What type of damages am I eligible for after being bitten by someone else’s dog?

A: Depending on your individual circumstances you may be able recover medical costs related directly related injuries sustained due current incident (e.g., hospital bills) as well as associated expenses (such as lost wages).

Additionally if there was permanent physical disfigurement resulting from attack then additional compensations may also cover future medical treatments necessary corrective procedures (e.g., plastic surgery).

In cases where psychological trauma incurred following attack then emotional distress damages may also apply depending local laws governing matter at hand – such determinations will ultimately determined court proceeding(s).

Q : How can I protect myself from future incidents involving aggressive animals owned by others?

A : Before engaging with unfamiliar animals always ask permission from its owner first; never approach without consent given.

Furthermore, consider using tools like pepper spray deterrents mace protect yourself case animal becomes threateningly aggressive other forms self-defense advised applicable situations .

Be aware surroundings possible presence unknown creatures while walking through parks wooded areas surrounding neighborhoods ; keep children close prevent them running up excitedly strange animals nearby . Above all , remain vigilant alertness heightened awareness help mitigate risk harm coming contact potentially hazardous creatures.

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