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Common Defenses in Dog Bite Cases

John Maher:  Hi, I’m John Maher, and today I’m here with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough, of the Law Firm of Mazow‑McCullough, a personal injury law firm, with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys, and today we’re going to be talking about common defenses in dog bite cases. Robert and Kevin, welcome.

Robert Mazow:  Thank you.

Kevin McCullough:  Thank you, John.

 

Frequently Used Defense Strategies in Dog Bite Cases

John:  What are the most common defense strategies for a dog attack?

Kevin:  The law of Massachusetts provides the ability for a victim of a dog bite, or dog attack, to present the claim.

However, in the same respect, a dog owner, or property owner, has certain defenses, or the ability to present certain information to either defend the claim completely, or try to mitigate what happened and how it happened.

The most common defenses that we see in presenting dog bite claims is that the victim was either teasing the dog or tormenting the dog.

We also see defenses of children who may be playing against the fence where the dog was kept, and ultimately, the dog comes over the fence. Beyond that, trespass is also a defense that we see.

Robert:  Right, which is just simply, “Hey, that person came onto my property. It’s my personal or private property. They came onto my front lawn or my backyard, or something like that, uninvited, and my dog attacked them.”

Kevin:  Yeah, “We’re real sorry it happened, but they shouldn’t have been in my yard anyway, so stay off my property.”

 

How to Challenge Common Defenses in Dog Bite Cases

John:  OK. What are some of the ways that you can challenge these defenses?

Robert:  It comes down to a credibility issue, for starters. We might see a victim of a dog bite who is, let’s say an infant, somebody who just doesn’t have the ability to consciously tease or torment the dog, Because the defense is raised by a dog owner that the infant was teasing or tormenting it, [it] would be not credible.

We’ve also seen this idea that Kevin was saying of a person trespassing, and the person was not trespassing. They were just walking by a home and the dog broke free. It broke off the leash or the chain, or jumped over the fence and clearly the person wasn’t trespassing.

Many times, it comes down to a credibility issue, or if there are witnesses who would support one side or the other.

 

Trespass Laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire

John:  Are there any laws that say that it’s OK for a person to walk onto somebody else’s property, uninvited, and have that be not a trespass? Like if somebody’s doing the door‑to‑door type of situation where maybe they’re selling something, or obviously, the mailman is allowed to go up to your house and deliver the mail.

Robert:  Right, there are many times that a person is “uninvited” but is yet still not a trespasser. Clearly, the suggestions that you’ve given, like the UPS driver or the delivery person. The post deliverer would not be considered to be trespassers.

However, if a person just walks into your backyard and the dog attacks, then shame on the trespasser, and they’ll probably have to live with that bite uncompensated.

 

What Can a Dog Bite Victim Expect From the Defense Team?

John:  OK. What can a dog bite victim expect from the defense team, if the case goes to trial?

Kevin:  Often times, the insurance company for the dog owner or property owner, which would be through the homeowner’s insurance, [will] have a legal team that would be representing the dog owner, or property owner. They start from a wide spectrum to gather information from their end, and see what, if any, information can be used as a potential defense for their client, to mitigate the case, or to present the victim in a bad light.

I think what a victim of a dog attack should expect is to be scrutinized to some extent as far as who they are, what their credibility is, especially, if how the incident happened is a question, and why it happened.

The victim needs to be careful, especially in these days with social media, Facebook accounts, Instagram accounts, and things like that. [Be cautious of] what you post on those accounts, whether it’s photographs, descriptions of what happened, and how it happened.

Those are things that are all in play and fair game that insurance companies and defense attorneys are going to gather eventually, and if it’s something that, even if it’s true, if it puts you in a negative light or it makes you not likable, that’s something that may come into play during preparing your case for presentment, or even to a jury.

 

Should You Hire a Dog Bite Lawyer?

John:  OK. Does that help to have an attorney on your side, a dog bite attorney like yourselves, to help to prepare the person who’s been injured for that type of questioning, when the defense is trying to paint them in a bad light, or goes after them in some way? I imagine that having some preparation and knowing what to expect would help.

Kevin:  Yes. Robert and I, always, when we meet with a new client, give them a spectrum of what to expect moving forward with a claim, and that can be a surprise sometimes to clients, because it’s just things that they wouldn’t necessarily think about.

We do sit down with clients and go over the process of what’s going to happen, how your medial bills will get paid, and we will make sure that happens. [We’ll discuss] how we’re going to continue to gather information and investigate what actually happened for purposes of showing that to the insurance company, insuring that photographs get taken throughout the process.

And also, what not to do, which can be just as important, as we talked about with social media the way that it is, whether or not there’s a connection to the dog owner, whether it’s a family member or friend.

Those communications that, even if it’s not direct from the victim to the dog owner, if they have mutual friends, sometimes stories can get twisted or manipulated, so be careful what you say to someone, and how you say it.

It is very important to give that information to the client, or the victim, initially, so that they know how to move forward, how to protect themselves, and how to preserve their client.

John:  OK. Robert, anything to add in terms of defenses and ways to challenge that?

Robert:  No, I think that Kevin hit the nail on the head. One of the very first things we tell a client when they come in is, “Whatever you’re posting on Facebook, whatever you’re tweeting, whatever you’re putting on Instagram, stop, because I know from the relationships that we have with the insurance companies, the very first thing they do is Google the person, Google the victim, and see what they’re up to.” I think that the advice is good to follow.

John:  All right, very good advice. Robert and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Kevin:  Thank you, John.

Robert:  Thanks for having us, John.

John:  For more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjuried.com, or call 855‑693‑9084.

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