Boston Dog Bite Lawyer
15 Court Square, Suite 800A
Boston, MA 02108
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Finkelstein & Partners, LLP – Winning Serious Injury Lawsuits Since 1959
More than 7,000 dogs live in Boston, with the dog population more than doubling in the past decade. While many people take the time to educate themselves about dog ownership, including learning how to reduce the risk that the dog will bite, others fail to observe the city’s leash laws, fail to properly socialize and train their pets, and fail to have their dogs spayed or neutered.
If you have suffered dog bite injuries due to someone else’s failure to secure an animal and keep others safe, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a dog bite lawsuit. A Boston dog bite lawyer from Finkelstein & Partners can assist you in filing your claim. We understand that this type of incident can result in extraordinary expenses and leave you with both physical and emotional scars. Let us help you seek justice and compensation.
How Common Are Dog Bites in Boston?
The City of Boston and the businesses and residential landlords who provide services and space in the city have made a concerted effort in recent years to make Boston more pet-friendly.
Apartment complexes in the region offer amenities focused on their four-legged residents, dog parks and dog-friendly businesses are readily available, and even some Boston workplaces allow their employees to bring their dogs to work.
According to a report from the Boston Public Health Commission, it received more than 300 dog bites a year, with about one-quarter of the victims of those bites being children under the age of 15. Some Boston neighborhoods where dog bites occur most frequently include Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, West Roxbury, and East Boston.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year, with around 800,000 of those bites requiring medical care. This means that, in any given year, you face a one in 73 chance of a dog biting you. Most dog bites involve unspayed or unneutered dogs. Most serious bites involve dogs owned by someone other than the victim.
Why Dogs Bite
Contrary to popular belief, whether a dog bites or not doesn’t depend on the breed. Any dog can bite if placed in the circumstances to do so.
Some of the most common reasons why dogs bite include:
- Fear. Most aggressive behavior from dogs stems from fear, whether fear of someone encroaching on their space, hurting their owner or puppies, or that someone will take their food.
- Feeling startled. Dogs can become easily startled, particularly when asleep. If woken up by certain things, such as a child petting them, they can become disoriented and bite. This rings particularly true for older dogs or those who do not have good eyesight or hearing.
- Protective instinct. Dogs’ protective instincts constitute one of the qualities that draw so many people to owning a dog. However, this is, unfortunately, one of the reasons dogs bite, as well. If a dog thinks its space, food, puppies, or human friends are in danger, the risk of a dog bite increases.
- Frustration. Dogs can also bite if they feel trapped somewhere and cannot escape, or if they want something just past the reach of their leash. The latter type of bite is known as a redirected bite, in which the dog bites whoever holds it back from what it wants.
- Pain. Because dogs cannot verbalize discomfort, an animal may feel bad without anyone realizing it. Being in pain can result in the dog being short-tempered and more likely to bite. Pain can also result in a dog bite if someone injures the dog, such as a child stepping on its tail.
- Rough play. Individuals who play rough with a puppy can inadvertently cause aggressive tendencies, such as nipping or biting.
Injuries Caused by Dog Bites
81 percent of dog bite injuries prove mild enough that they do not require medical attention. However, do not let this fool you: dog bites can produce extremely serious injuries and complications.
Some of the injuries that can result from dog bites include:
- Puncture wounds
- Injuries to the face and neck
- Eye injuries
- Broken bones
- Nerve damage
- Damage to blood vessels
Infection: The Leading Complication of Dog Bite Injuries
When a dog’s teeth pierce the skin, bacteria from the dog’s mouth can enter the wound and result in an infection. Researchers estimate that up to 15 percent of dog bite injuries become infected, with some of the infections producing life-threatening effects. Rabies constitutes one of the most concerning infections that an individual can get.
Dog owners in Boston must license their dogs and obtain a rabies vaccination for them every year. However, not all owners comply with vaccination requirements, and you may struggle to locate the dog owner after suffering a bite to determine the dog’s vaccination status. Because of this, individuals who have suffered a dog bite and cannot prove that the dog has received all required vaccines or quarantine the dog for observation generally must undergo the treatment for rabies infection.
The initial signs of rabies include:
- Headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms
- An itching or prickling feeling around the bite
Another serious concern following a Boston dog bite involves the risk of tetanus infection. Commonly referred to as lockjaw, tetanus results from a toxin-producing bacterium. The infection results in impairment of the nervous system that causes muscles to constrict. The illness can appear within 21 days after exposure without proper treatment, including a post-bite tetanus shot.
Symptoms of tetanus include:
- Painful muscle spasms and rigidity in the jaw
- Tension in the muscles around the lips that can create the appearance of a smile
- Rigid abdominal muscles
- Difficulty swallowing
Sepsis is an often fatal infection that one can acquire from a dog bite. Sepsis occurs when the infection enters the bloodstream and affects all of the body’s organs.
Sepsis presents with symptoms, such as:
- An abnormally high or low body temperature
- Extreme sleepiness in the daytime
- Severe pain or discomfort
Capnocytophaga constitutes another type of bacteria that can enter a dog bite wound and result in an infection. This infection generally appears within 14 days after the bite and can appear if the individual excessively consumes alcohol, does not have a spleen, has a condition affecting the immune system, or undergoes chemotherapy.
Capnocytophaga infections present with the following symptoms:
- Blistering near the injury site
- Redness, swelling, oozing, or pain around the wound
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Joint pain
Boston’s Dog Laws
As previously stated, dog owners in Boston must have their dog on a leash when off of their property. The dog must remain under the control of its owner or care provider when not at home or within a fenced yard and cannot roam the streets or bother the public.
Other dog laws include:
- A yearly license for all dogs over six months of age by April 1. Owners can obtain this license online, by mail, or in person at Animal Care and Control, 1010 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA, 02118. To obtain the license, the dog owner must fill out an application and present proof of current rabies vaccination. The fee for the annual license is $15 for spayed and neutered dogs, and $30 for intact dogs. Dog owners who are 70 years of age or older do not have to pay these fees.
- Massachusetts follows the legal doctrine of strict liability when it comes to dog bites. Accordingly, dog owners bear liability for any damage or injury caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog had never acted aggressively in the past. This constitutes a departure from the “one bite rule” that many states follow, which holds that dog owners only bear liability if they knew or had reason to know that their dog was capable of aggressive behavior.
- In Boston, in addition to civil liability, dog owners whose dogs bite and injure another person can face criminal liability too, particularly if victims can prove that the owner allowed or encouraged the attack.
- If a dog bite victim trespassed or committed a crime at the time when the dog bite occurred, the victim likely won’t qualify for the injuries sustained. Importantly, conducting legal business at the property such as delivering the mail does not constitute trespassing.
Seeking Compensation After a Boston Dog Bite
If you have suffered an injury or property damage as a result of a dog bite, you can seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. You must file this claim in civil court within three years of the date on which the accident occurred. Generally, you will file the claim against the applicable insurance policy of the dog owner, such as the homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Most policies will cover dog bites, though some insurance companies refuse to provide coverage for bites from certain breeds of dogs, and other policies will exclude animals with a history of biting.
To have a valid dog bite claim, you must prove the following:
- The dog bit you, causing injury or property damage.
- The bite occurred while you were legally on a property, were not in the process of committing a crime, and were not provoking the dog.
We should note that you can seek compensation for other types of injuries incurred in an encounter with a dog, as well, such as injuries incurred because a dog aggressively knocked you to the ground.
What You Can Receive Compensation For
Individuals seeking compensation for injuries sustained in a dog bite can use the personal injury claims process and the civil court system to seek compensation for both the expenses of the injury (commonly referred to as economic damages), as well as the psychological impacts that stem from the injury (commonly referred to as non-economic damages).
Some commonly claimed expenses and impacts in Boston dog bite cases include:
- Medical expenses, including emergency room treatment, laboratory and diagnostic testing, surgical services, prescription medication, hospitalization, and treatment for complications.
- Lost wages if your injury prevents you from working or you must miss work to attend injury-related medical appointments.
- Loss of future earning capacity if your dog bite injury or associated complications result in a permanent disability and you can no longer earn in the same capacity as you did before the injury occurred.
- Property damage related to the dog bite. Examples include the cost of replacing the clothing torn in the attack or a phone that you dropped and broke when the dog bit you.
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering resulting from the injury itself, particularly painful treatments you had to endure after the injury occurred, or even the emotional trauma of the attack.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life, if the injury prevents you from participating in activities and events you used to enjoy.
Boston Dog Bite FAQ
Many injured people have questions about their legal rights. Here are some of the most common questions clients ask Boston dog bite attorneys.
At first, it may seem strange to contact a dog bite lawyer. This is especially true if you know the dog or the dog owner well. However, there are several ways that an attorney can help you in this difficult situation.
Once retained, your Boston dog bite lawyer can:
Let you know if your case has legal merit
You may be eligible for a dog bite settlement to compensate you for your damages. Damages include medical expenses, lost wages if you missed work, and pain and suffering. If you did not experience any damages, you cannot file a lawsuit.
An experienced Boston dog bite lawyer can tell you whether you have a valid legal claim. Law firms that take on these cases often offer free consultations.
Uphold your legal rights
A dog bite claim is a personal injury lawsuit filed in civil court. As the plaintiff (also called “claimant”) in this lawsuit, you have certain legal rights. When you hire a Boston dog bite attorney, their sole focus is to pursue justice on your behalf.
Take over negotiations with the insurance company
Representatives from the insurance company may act polite and even kind. But you have to remember that the insurance company is a for-profit business. They do not have your best interests in mind.
Their goal is to settle quickly and for as little money as possible. It can take a lot of back-and-forth negotiations to arrive at an appropriate settlement amount. Your lawyer can handle the legal aspect of your dog bite claim so that you can focus on your recovery.
Represent you in court if your case goes to trial
Many dog bite cases settle outside of court. However, sometimes putting your case before a judge or jury is the best course of action. As the plaintiff, you have the final say in whether you take your case to court or not.
If you decide to go to trial, a Boston dog bite lawyer can prepare you, and they’ll stand by you throughout the proceedings.
Not every dog bite results in a legal claim. Sometimes, that’s because a lawsuit isn’t the best course of action. And sometimes, the injured party simply wasn’t aware of their rights.
It may be appropriate to file a lawsuit if:
- The dog owner refuses to take responsibility for the attack
- The insurance company says the dog bite was your fault
- The insurance company has made you an offer that is well below what your injuries are worth
- Your injuries are catastrophic and require life-long treatment
Without the insight and experience of a dog bite lawyer, the average person won’t know if a lawsuit is the right choice.
Like most states, the age of majority in Massachusetts is 18. Minors (except, perhaps, emancipated minors) cannot file civil lawsuits.
According to the Massachusetts Code of Civil Procedure, when a minor is the victim of a dog bite, an adult can file a legal claim on their behalf. Typically, that person is the minor’s parent or legal guardian, but another appointed adult can serve that role.
It can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more for a dog bite lawsuit to settle. How long your case will take depends on several factors.
If there is a dispute over responsibility
The law makes it clear that dog owners are responsible for their pets. However, there are cases where a dispute may arise.
For example, if the dog bit someone while under the care of a dog boarder or pet sitter. Or, if for some reason, someone disputes who owns the dog.
The severity of your injuries
Dog bite attorneys know that even a seemingly “minor” injury can have a lasting impact on your life. If your injury is easily treatable and you don’t have lasting complications, your case may settle in a relatively short amount of time.
Conversely, severe injuries that involve permanent disability, surgery, or disfigurement may take a long time to settle.
If you take your case to trial
In some circumstances, the injured party should go to court. But, a trial comes with drawbacks. It is difficult to predict how a judge or jury will react to your case.
You decide if you go to court or not. Your dog bite lawyer can advise you on your rights and possible outcomes, but the choice to proceed with a trial is yours to make.
If the dog owner has insurance
If the dog owner tells you that they don’t have insurance, that may not end your legal case. You may still sue the dog owner, but your case could take longer.
In some circumstances, you can hold another party like a landlord or property owner liable. For example, if a dog owner rented their home and the dog broke through a hole in the fence, ran out into the street, and bit you, you might hold the landlord liable for leaving their property in disrepair.
The short answer is, “anytime and anywhere.” Even trained house pets can exhibit unpredictable behavior around new people, new environments, and stressful situations. Here are just a few examples of where a Boston dog bite injury can occur.
Boston dog parks
Boston dog parks may contain designated off-leash spaces. Unfortunately, some pet owners are not good judges of whether their dog should go off-leash. A dog bite or attack can happen at dog parks such as Downer Avenue Playground, Garvey Playground, and Boston Common.
On the subway
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority allows leashed, non-service dogs during off-peak hours. Riding the subway can be a stressful experience for a pet.
Boston’s dog-friendly restaurants, cafes, and breweries can become crowded, loud, and overwhelming for dogs.
No, service animals are not exempt from dog bite lawsuits. Service dog owners and handlers are still responsible for their animal’s behavior.
The Americans witIs it true that trespassers cannot sue for dog bite injuries?
h Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that “service animals be under the control of the handler at all times.” Acceptable ways to keep a service dog under control are via leash, tether, harness, voice commands, signal, or “or other effective means to maintain control of the animal.”
A service dog can add a layer of complexity to your case, as these animals are bred specifically for their behavioral traits and training abilities. The insurance company could argue that you must have willingly and knowingly provoked the dog.
In addition, there are two key facts you should know about service dogs.
Anyone can buy a service dog vest
If the handler told you that the dog was an ADA service animal, that may not necessarily be true. Online retailers such as Amazon and Etsy sell dog vests, collars, and leashes with phrases like “service dog” and “guide dog.”
Additionally, ADA service dogs are not required to wear a vest. Therefore, whether a dog wears a vest is not a good indication of its service dog status.
An emotional support animal is different from a service dog
While the use of emotional support animals has grown in recent years, these dogs are different from service dogs. The ADA defines a service dog as, “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
From a legal standpoint, the distinction between an emotional support dog and a service dog is important. Emotional support animals generally cannot go to places that do not allow pets, whereas a service dog can accompany its owner anywhere. If an emotional support dog was somewhere it shouldn’t have been—such as a restaurant that doesn’t allow pets—this may strengthen your case.
In some circumstances, if a dog bites a trespasser, that person cannot file a dog bite lawsuit. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 140, § 155 states that dog owners and keepers are responsible for any damage the animal causes unless the injured party “was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.” Note that these requirements do not apply to children under the age of seven.
In the eyes of the law, a trespasser is someone who enters a property without that property owner’s permission. There are situations where an individual has implied consent to enter someone else’s yard, such as a postal worker delivering mail. If a dog attacked you and the property owner claims that you were trespassing, consult an attorney.
Yes, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit no matter where the animal attack happened. Many dog bites happen at a friend’s or family member’s home. According to the American Veterinary Association (AVA), young children are often bitten “during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.”
Holiday parties and large gatherings can overwhelm family pets and cause them to act aggressively. All pet owners—whether they are strangers or your close friends—must keep their dogs under control.
Not necessarily. Some dog owners may voluntarily choose to have the animal humanely euthanized, out of concern that the dog could injure someone else. And if the dog bite injuries were especially severe, animal control representatives or other dog experts may recommend euthanization.
After a dog bites or attacks someone, the animal could be deemed a “Dangerous Dog,” under the City of Boston Municipal Code. A “Dangerous Dog” may be subject to certain regulations to keep others safe, such as a locked outdoor pen and the use of a shorter leash when on public property.
The Boston Public Health Commission has compiled these dog bite myths and facts.
Myth: Dog bites are a rare occurrence in Boston.
Fact: Boston receives over 300 dog bite reports each year. It’s difficult to know how many dog bites are never properly reported to city officials.
Myth: Only some breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for dog bites.
Fact: Any dog of any size or breed can bite if scared, startled, or hurt. The majority of bites do not come from aggressive pets.
Myth: The injured person does not need to see a doctor if the dog has a current rabies vaccination.
Fact: Rabies is just one complication that can arise after a dog bite. As many as 18 percent of dog bites will become infected and need treatment. Also, a dog bite can require stitches or even surgery.
Yes. You have three years after a dog bites you to pursue legal action, according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260, § 2A. This time limit is called a statute of limitations.
That may seem like a long time, but there is no reason to wait to speak with an attorney. Evidence fades over time, so the sooner you take action, the stronger your case.
Let Finkelstein & Partners Help With Your Dog Bite Claim
An experienced Boston dog bite lawyer from Finkelstein & Partners understands how difficult it often proves to recover financially, physically, and emotionally after suffering a dog bite injury.
We realize that a lot of people will discourage you from filing a claim by minimizing your injuries or even indicating that you must have done something wrong for the dog to bite you.
Responsibility for your injury belongs with the owner who failed to keep his or her dog under control. If you sustained serious injuries due to the negligence of a dog owner, you shouldn’t have to bear the cost of your injuries. Rather, the at-fault dog owner should pay for your medical expenses and other damages, including lost wages and property damage.
Let’s discuss your legal options and how we can help you with your claim. For a free case evaluation, contact us online or by calling (877) 472-3061. During your case evaluation, you can discuss the details of your claim, ask questions about your legal options and next steps, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation to cover the full cost of your injuries.