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What You Need to Know About Dog Bite Law

dog-with-bared-teeth

Dog bite law tends to be extraordinarily complex, because there are few laws that specifically govern dog bites and legal remedies for dog attack victims. Much must be gleaned from previous case files. In some cases, pursuing a dog bite claim may land the plaintiff in unknown legal territory. Here’s what you need to know about established dog bite laws and what to do if you or a loved one have been the victim of a dog attack.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire are Both “Strict Liability” States

Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire are considered “strict liability” states when it comes to dog bites, meaning that dog owners are almost always held liable for the actions of their pets. This is true even if the dog owner had no knowledge that the dog would attack or bite another person. This law makes it easier to pursue a dog bite claim in these states because there is not a requirement to show negligence on the part of the owner.

Both States Have a 3-Year Statute of Limitations on Dog Bite Claims

Many states have a fairly ample statute of limitations, but both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have just a 3-year statute of limitations. This means that you must file your dog bite claim within 3 years of the original incident or you will forfeit your right to bring forward a claim for compensation entirely.

An Actual “Bite” Is Not Necessary to Bring Forward a Claim

Massachusetts and New Hampshire have laws that allow for a dog attack victim to seek compensation for all damages, not just those related to an actual dog bite. This means that if a dog attacks an individual and causes injury, but does not bite, the victim can still bring forward an injury claim for damages. For instance, if you are injured due to a dog knocking you over, you may be able to bring forward a claim. In some cases, dog attack compensation cases may also include provisions for property damage.

You May Not Be Able to Recover Damages if You Were Trespassing

If you were trespassing on another person’s property, harassing the dog, or committing another tort, you may not be eligible to bring forward a claim for compensation. Because both Massachusetts and New Hampshire are strict liability states, this is generally the only defense that a dog owner has against a person seeking damages for a dog attack. However, because the law tends to favor dog bite victims, compensation can sometimes still be awarded in cases where the victim was trespassing, but the owner’s property did not have clear markers or signs warning of trespassing. It’s also important to note that the trespassing and harassment exceptions do not apply to anyone under the age of seven. When a young child is attacked by a dog, the owner is liable no matter what.

Breed-Specific Dog Laws

In Massachusetts, breed specific legislation (BSL) and bans are illegal. In other words, municipalities, counties, and other governments cannot make laws banning dogs based on their breed. Additionally, dogs cannot be labeled as a nuisance or dangerous just because of their breed. In New Hampshire, the state upholds the right of local governments to make their own breed specific legislation, but at the time of writing, no towns or counties in New Hampshire currently have any breed specific laws on the books.

The Legal Process After a Dog Bite in Massachusetts

If you report a dog attack in Massachusetts, there is a public hearing. The hearing authority can dismiss the complaint or label the dog as a nuisance or a dangerous dog. Then, the owner has to take action, ranging from putting the dog in obedience classes and keeping it in a kennel to euthanizing the animal. Regardless of the results of the criminal proceedings, you can also choose to bring forward a civil case.

Dog Bite Laws in New Hampshire

If you are bitten by a dog in New Hampshire, you should report the attack to the authorities as soon as possible. Let them know the name of the dog’s owners as well as any identifying details about the dog. In cases where your skin is broken, the animal officer or town clerk must notify you within 24 hours to let you know if the dog has been immunized against rabies.

At that point, the owner may pay a civil forfeiture of $100 if it was the dog’s first attack or up $400 if the dog has committed other vicious attacks in the last 12 months. By paying a civil forfeiture fee, the owner waives the right to go to court, but after two attacks in a 12-month period, the owner must appear in district or municipal court. The victim may also choose to bring a civil suit against the dog’s owner, and the owner may be required to pay for all damages plus pain and suffering.

In New Hampshire, dogs can be labeled as a nuisance, a menace, or vicious in any of the following situations:

  • The dog is roaming at large.
  • The dog is barking excessively for more than a half an hour during the day or is disturbing the peace during the night.
  • The dog scratches, excretes, or drags garbage onto other people’s properties.
  • A female dog in heat is allowed to roam at large — except in cases of intentional breeding, female dogs in heat must be contained and they cannot be used for hunting.
  • When off its owner’s property, the dog growls, snaps at, or chases people.
  • The dog chases bicyclists or motor vehicles on public streets or walking paths.
  • The dog chases or attacks wild animals, fowl, domesticated animals, or people.

At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we fully understand dog bite laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and are able to extend our expertise and resources to your case. We will exhaust every possible source of compensation to cover your dog bite related expenses, and we will passionately advocate for you to receive the maximum settlement available in your case. When a dog attack situation threatens to cause your family undue emotional, physical, and financial strain, you need strong legal representation. Contact us for a consultation to discuss your legal needs with an experienced dog bite attorney.

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC / Foter / CC BY-ND

 

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