In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you have just three years to bring forward a dog bite claim. After that time, the statute of limitations expires, and you can no longer seek a settlement. However, there is one exception — if you were bitten as a child and your parent didn’t file a suit, you can bring forward a claim for three years after your 18th birthday.
If you’ve been bitten, attacked, or injured by a dog, you should contact an attorney to talk about your situation. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the process so you know what to expect.
In Massachusetts, dog bite cases start with a public hearing. You, your legal representative, and the dog owner or handler goes in front of a hearing authority. You explain the situation and what happened, and the hearing authority either decides to dismiss the complaint or label the dog as a dangerous or nuisance animal.
This is effectively the criminal trial for the dog. If the dog is labeled as dangerous or a nuisance, it may need to be euthanized, or its owner may be required to follow strict protocol such as muzzling the dog in public, keeping it kenneled, or enrolling in obedience classes.
In New Hampshire, the process is a little bit different. Generally, you report the incident to the authorities, and the dog owner can choose to waive their right to a criminal trial by paying a forfeiture fee. However, if the dog is guilty of its second attack in a 12-month period, the owner has to appear in district or municipal court. Based on the ruling in this trial, the owner may have to take certain actions ranging from dog training to euthanizing the dog.
After the public hearing, you can bring forward a civil case against the dog’s owner. Essentially, this is where you show how the dog attack has affected you financially and emotionally, and you attempt to obtain a settlement from the owner’s insurance company.
If the dog owner doesn’t have insurance, your lawyer will help you look at alternative angles. For instance, if a friend or relative was walking the dog, their insurance may cover the situation. Similarly, if a professional was walking the dog, their employer may be responsible. If the attack happened on someone else’s property, they may be liable.
Keep in mind that most dog bite cases don’t go to court. Instead, they are resolved through negotiations. That means that you may have to sit down with your lawyer and a representative for the dog owner, but you usually don’t have to go through a long trial.
Whether you go to court or settle out of court, settlements are based on damages, and your lawyer will help you assess your damages. Typically, that includes financial losses such as medical bills, lost time at work, hiring help around the home due to your injury, or any other costs related to the dog attack. Damages can also include pain and suffering. Those are compensatory damages, but there may also be punitive damages, which are amounts designed to punish the dog owner for their negligent behavior.
To avoid paying damages, the dog owner or their representative will likely try to argue that they are not liable. However, when it comes to dog bites, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are strict liability states. That means that the owner is almost always liable except in a few rare situations. Aside from arguing that they don’t own the dog, the most common defenses dog owners use are the following:
Generally, these rules don’t apply to children under the age of seven. In the past, judges have taken liberal definitions of provocation, and they have relieved owners of liability in cases where, for example, the victim accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail, intervened in a dog fight, or petted a strange dog while it was eating.
If you have been attacked or injured by a dog, take action now. For a free case consultation, contact Mazow | McCullough, PC.