Let’s get one thing clear: No case is guaranteed. There is always a risk factor from the human element involving the whims of a judge or jury. That being said, dog attack cases are some of the easiest cases to win and victims have the best odds of prevailing.
In fact, Massachusetts has strict liability for dog bites: The owner of the dog is responsible for the injury. It’s written right into the general laws. Chapter 140, Section 155 to be exact.
Some people think dogs are entitled to one free bite; they’ve never bitten a person before and the owner couldn’t possibly have known that they would bite someone. That won’t protect you. Your dog bit a person causing a serious injury to someone who was minding their own business and you own that dog, that’s your responsibility.
If you’re an adult and your dog bites someone, you are responsible. If you’re a minor and your dog bites someone, your parents are legally responsible. The damages will usually be covered by homeowners’ insurance.
That covers the overwhelming majority of dog bite cases. There are two big exceptions, however, spelled out plainly in the law.
The Exceptions to the Dog Bite Law
The dog owner is not responsible if you were bitten while being cruel to the dog. The exact words of the law are that you can not be “Teasing, tormenting or abusing” the dog. If that was happening, it’s entirely expected (and possibly justified with adults) for the dog to fight back.
The law also says the dog owner is responsible so long as the bitten person was not “committing a trespass or other tort.”
If you jump my fence and my dog bites you, I have a good defense. You’re on my property. If you’re attacking me and my dog jumps in to protect me, the only thing I expect to pay for is a steak for Fido.
If you have a “Beware Dog” sign it probably won’t protect you from a personal injury lawsuit. If you verbally warn a person that your dog bites and they reach out and get bitten, the person would probably be found to be 40 percent responsible for the bite, and you would be 60 percent responsible as the dog’s owner. That’s still a majority of the responsibility and you would still be liable for damages.