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 how to file an insurance claim for a dog bite in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Kevin and Robert, welcome.
Robert Mazow: Thank you.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
John: In terms of insurance, what types of insurance cover dog bite incidents?
Kevin: The type of insurance that comes into play for dog bite claims involves homeowner’s insurance coverage. You can also be a tenant in a property and have tenant’s coverage. We typically see homeowner’s insurance policies regarding dog bite claims.
John: Is there a reason why it’s not as much in terms of landlords and things like that? Do people tend not to have pets when they’re in apartment buildings as much?
Kevin: I think the part that really deters tenants from having dogs is the rental agreements that come into play. A lot of the tenants may live in multi‑complex facilities, and a lot of property owners just don’t want to have the headaches that come involved with dog owners, whether it’s cleaning up, dealing with other tenants, and dogs barking. We routinely see that with the homeowner’s side of things.
Robert: I think sometimes an issue that comes up with the tenants [is] that they don’t always tell the landlord that they might have a dog in the apartment or the building, which tends to lead to no homeowner’s insurance coverage applying, which can be an issue.
John: How can a dog bite victim file an insurance claim for a dog bite?
Kevin: The dog bite victim wants to make sure they gather as much information that they can regarding the dog itself, whether it’s a description of the dog, getting information from the leash, and also getting the information of the dog owner.
Sometimes, it may involve the handler of a dog, or someone who’s walking the dog, who may not be the actual owner. But it is very important in regards to presenting a claim to gather the information regarding the owner, the address, and if possible, the insurance information.
Robert: Sometimes, I think the severity of the attack, or the bite, will lead to the police coming to the scene as well, and the police can gather the information. If the victim is, unfortunately, taken away by ambulance or has to go to the emergency room, they can later contact the police department or the animal control officer to get the information necessary to file a claim.
John: Do you think it’s important that somebody contact an attorney before they file an insurance claim? Are there ways in which that you as an attorney can help somebody to file that claim?
Robert: I think the answer depends. If it’s a minor injury that doesn’t require medical attention, then I wouldn’t suggest that an attorney is necessary.
However, the dog bite incidents that we tend to see have very severe injuries, severe consequences. In that case, I would highly recommend speaking to a knowledgeable attorney to be the liaison between yourself, the victim of the dog bite, and the insurance company. [This is] just to make sure that everything is done properly and that nobody is taken advantage of, and that medical bills are taken care of and that any payment for scarring or permanent disability is covered.
John: Is there a statute of limitations on a dog bite claim in Massachusetts or in New Hampshire? We should say that a statute of limitations is how long after the incident occurs before you’re no longer able to bring a case up regarding that incident? Is that correct?
Kevin: That’s correct. The statute of limitations acts as a legal bar, protecting defendants or dog owners, and it requires that a claim be either settled or filed at the courts within a certain time frame. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for dog bite claims is three years.
However, there is an exception to that for minors, [or] people who are under 18 years of age. The statute of limitations for dog bite claims for a minor doesn’t actually start to run until their 18th birthday. In that situation it would be three years from the 18th birthday.
The law is very similar in New Hampshire in that the statute of limitations is three years, with the same exception for minors.
John: Would that mean that [if] you were a minor and you were injured in a dog bite incident, but your parents never brought that case to court, when you turn 18, would you then be able to turn around and file a claim?
Kevin: That’s a great question, John, and something that we have run into in the past. Yes, in fact, if a child suffers a dog bite or a dog attack, and maybe the parents [didn’t file a claim because they] were friendly with the dog owner or maybe they were tenants at a particular property and didn’t want to disrupt what was going on around them. In that situation, definitely, the person who [was bitten] would have the ability to present a claim for up to three years after their 18th birthday.
John: When you’re filing a claim for insurance, obviously, you’re trying to get the dog owner to have their insurance compensate you for your injuries, your medical expenses, et cetera. What should a dog bite victim do if the dog’s owner does not have insurance?
Kevin: One of the things that we think separates us from other attorneys is trying to gather information to see if there are other potential defendants. Oftentimes, the dog or dog owner may be at someone else’s property at the time of the attack.
They may be at a public event at the time of the bite or the attack. Taking a step back, you want to make sure when you’re evaluating a claim as an attorney and helping a victim of a dog bite or dog attack that you find out and gather as much information as you can to see if, in fact, other people may be responsible.
The best example of that is someone who is in charge of walking the dog, a dog walker. That may be a business, an actual corporate entity, or it could just be a local neighbor or someone walking the dog who may have their own insurance and they may take on the responsibility of that incident.
That’s the first step in evaluating whether or not there is coverage. Ultimately, if you determine there is no insurance coverage to go after, it can be tricky, but you still want to find out as much information as you can.
Again, as Robert mentioned earlier, depending upon the severity of the injury, whether or not that dog owner, or that handler, has any assets to pursue or other coverage that may be available to help pay medical bills [and] lost wages, or help compensate the dog victim.
Robert: There are just two important points that I want to try and hone what Kevin said. The statue in Massachusetts is not just limited to the dog owner. If the dog owner does not have insurance coverage, but they’re having their son take the dog for a walk, and the son has his own homeowner’s coverage, and during the time that the son has control of the dog, the son’s homeowner’s policy could come into play.
It’s not just the owner. It’s the keeper. I think people sometimes miss that nuance in the statue that if a keeper of the dog has control of the dog at the time of the incident, then they are responsible. It could be a groomer, or dog daycare, or just a neighbor walking the dog.
The legislature wants to make sure that people are protected, and that’s why they’ve added the language for adding the keeper.
The other issue is that if a person doesn’t have homeowner’s coverage, that doesn’t prevent you from making a claim. Ultimately, it is the dog owner or keeper that is responsible, and you are entitled to seek compensation directly from them if they happen to have assets that are recoverable.
John: All right, really great information, Kevin and Robert. Thanks very much for speaking with me.
Robert: Thank you.
John: For more information on dog bite cases, or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website, at helpinginjured.com, or call 855‑693‑9084