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What to Do If Your Child Is Bitten by a Neighbor's Dog


A dog can be a loyal companion and a friendly neighborhood presence, but unfortunately, there are instances when a dog may feel threatened for whatever reason and bite a child. Dog bites can cause severe injuries and - especially if left untreated - can cause serious illnesses.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Children ages 5-9 are the most common victims of dog bites and are more likely to be severely injured.

If a neighbor's dog bites your child, knowing what steps to take is important.

Remain Calm and Seek Medical Attention

It may seem like an impossible task, but it's important to remain calm. This will help ensure your child remains as comfortable and relaxed as possible. If you are panicked, your child will likely respond to your emotional state.

After assessing the situation, be sure to seek medical attention. Even if the bite appears minor, it's important to have a doctor examine the wound. A doctor will be able to determine if a tetanus shot is necessary.

Gather Information

Once the immediate medical concerns are addressed, gather as much information as possible about the incident. This should include details about where and when the bite occurred, the circumstances leading up to the bite, and any witnesses who saw the incident. Ideally, take pictures of the wound before it's treated, as well as the location where the bite occurred.

The information you should gather includes:

  • The dog owner's name and contact details
  • The breed and size of the dog
  • The dog's vaccination history, if known
  • Names and contact information of any witnesses
  • Photographs of the wound before treatment
  • Photographs of the location where the bite occurred

This information will be vital if you decide to report the incident to local authorities or pursue legal action. It will also help medical professionals understand the risk of potential diseases or infections.

Massachusetts Dog Bite Law

In Massachusetts, the dog bite law is governed by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 140: Section 155, which holds dog owners strictly liable for any bite or attack committed by their dog. This statute stipulates that a dog owner or keeper is liable for any damage caused by their dog to a person or property unless the person injured was trespassing, committing another tort, or was tormenting or abusing the dog. This responsibility applies whether the dog bite occurs on public or private property and whether or not the dog has shown prior signs of aggression.

The strict liability dog bite law in Massachusetts has the following key elements:

  • The injured person did not provoke the dog
  • The injured person was not trespassing, committing a crime, or doing some other wrongful act
  • The person injured was acting peaceably

However, if the dog bite victim is a child under the age of seven, Massachusetts law presumes that the child was not trespassing or provoking the dog unless the defendant can prove otherwise. This means that, in cases involving young children, the dog owner typically can't avoid legal responsibility by claiming the child provoked the dog. This presumption protects children who may not understand how their actions could provoke a dog.

Massachusetts has robust legal protections for victims of dog bites. In contrast to the "one bite rule" used by some other states, Massachusetts holds dog owners liable even if they didn't have reason to believe their dog was dangerous. Even if they tried to take reasonable care to protect their neighbors and acquaintances from potential harm, they could still be held liable for damages.

If you or your child has suffered a dog bite in Massachusetts, it's important to understand the state's legal protections so that you can pursue justice and compensation. An experienced personal injury attorney can help evaluate the facts of your case and determine if there is liability on the dog owner's part.

It's also crucial to remember that there is a three-year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in dog bite cases. This means that you have three years from the date of the bite to file a claim in court.

Damages in Dog Bite Cases

In a dog bite case, a victim may be eligible for different types of damages for the injuries and losses they've suffered.

These types of damages can include:

  • Medical expenses: This includes all costs for the immediate treatment of the bite, any necessary surgeries, medications, and future medical services related to the injury.
  • Pain and suffering: These are damages awarded for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered due to the dog bite. This could also include compensation for psychological trauma, such as fear or anxiety.
  • Lost wages: If the dog bite leads to missed work, the victim may be compensated for lost income. If the injury results in long-term disability that affects the victim's ability to work, future lost earnings can also be considered.
  • Property damage: If the dog damaged any property during the incident, the cost of repair or replacement can be included in the claim.

In cases where a dog was already deemed dangerous and the dog wounds a person or wounds or kills any livestock or fowl, the dog's owner can be liable for three times the amount of damages sustained.

"Dangerous" and "Nuisance" Dogs in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a dog can be legally deemed as "dangerous" or a "nuisance" under certain criteria. A "dangerous" dog is one that either attacks or injures a person or domestic animal without provocation or behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would find threatening in an unprovoked situation. On the other hand, a "nuisance" dog is one that, by excessive barking or other disturbances, is a source of annoyance to a sick person residing in the vicinity or interferes with the reasonable use and enjoyment of a property.

The process for declaring a dog a "nuisance" or "dangerous" is as follows:

  • A hearing officer or authority receives a complaint
  • A hearing is scheduled within 14 days of the complaint
  • The dog's owner is notified in writing at least seven days before the hearing
  • Evidence is presented at the hearing by the complainant, the dog owner, and any witnesses
  • The hearing officer or authority makes a determination based on the evidence

If a dog is declared "dangerous," the hearing authority can order a range of actions, including restraint, confinement, muzzling, insurance coverage, spaying or neutering, microchipping, or, in extreme cases, euthanasia. If the dog is found to be a "nuisance," it may be ordered to be confined to the owner's premises or moderated in its behavior by some other means specified by the hearing authority.

It's important to note that a dog being declared a "nuisance" or "dangerous" can have significant consequences for the owner, including increased liability in the event of future incidents. Responsible dog ownership is essential to prevent such situations and to maintain a safe and harmonious environment in the community.

Seek Legal Advice

If a dog has bitten you or your child, it is crucial to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you understand the complexities of dog bite law and guide you through seeking compensation. They can also help gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and, if necessary, represent you in court to ensure your rights are protected and you receive the justice you deserve.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure safety and accountability. The ordeal can be distressing and traumatic, especially for children who may not fully understand what has happened. By seeking legal advice and pursuing a legal course of action if necessary, you can help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Dog owners will be more likely to take preventative measures and act responsibly if they know the possible legal repercussions of their dog's actions.

At Percy Law Group, PC, our experienced attorneys understand the pain and stress of an animal attack. We are dedicated to helping victims receive justice and compensation for their injuries.

Contact us online or call us at (508) 206-9900 to schedule a consultation. 

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