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Dog Bite Compensation

Massachusetts Police Injury Attorneys
Legal Article - Dog Bite Compensation


Unfortunately, many police officers mistakenly believe that personal injury claims could only be made when they have been bitten by a dog. These officers are injured by dogs while responding to false alarms, domestic disputes, and commercial and residential breaks. The dog, which is usually running loose, playfully or intentionally jumps on and knocks over the police officer, gets under his feet or chases him. Regardless of whether a bite was involved, I fight for compensation for injured officers over and above amounts they may receive for base wages, under G.L. ch. 41, § 111F, whenever a dog causes the injury. Such payments under G.L. ch. 41, § 111F pale in comparison to the real loss suffered by injured officers. Such officers while out injured on duty receive no compensation for monies they would have earned while working valuable details, overtime and court time. Although their wages go down while out injured on duty, there is no similar decrease in their mortgages, their children's tuition and other obligations. Nor does § 111F payments compensate for the pain and suffering involved with these injuries. This article explores the law with respect to compensating officers who are injured by dogs on occasions where a bite was not involved.

The pertinent Massachusetts statute provides an owner of a dog is liable for "any damage" caused by his dog. See G.L. ch. 140, § 155. The intent of the statute is to put the risk of harm from acts of a dog upon the dog owner and not faultless injured people. See Sullivan v. Ward, 24 N.E.2d 672, 674 (Mass. 1939). In Sullivan the Court stated the legislature was not content to leave liability of an "owner or keeper of a dog" on a person "injured" by it. In Leone v. Falco, 292 Mass. 299, 304 (1935) the Court stated that G.L. ch. 140, § 155 was originally designed to put the risk of harm from an act of a dog upon an owner of the dog and not the faultless injured person.

Unfortunately, many police officers over the years have mistakenly believed that claims could only be made when they have been bitten by a dog. However, the Massachusetts Courts long ago recognized that dogs may cause injuries or damages by activity such as playful jumping on a person. See Canavan v. George, 292 Mass 245, 246 (1935). In Canavan the Court allowed plaintiff to amend complaint under G.L. ch. 140, § 155 by substituting word "injured" for "attacked and bit" when the plaintiff was "injured" by being struck down by a dog. In Hathaway v. Tinkham, 148 Mass. 85, 88 (1888) the Court stated that dogs may even cause "injuries" or damages by jumping playfully.

It should be noted that when Canavan and Hathaway were decided, G.L. ch. 140, § 155 stated "The owner or keeper of a dog shall be liable in tort to a person "injured" by it...." Canavan, 292 Mass at 245. The Legislature has since amended G.L. ch. 140, § 155 so that dog owners are liable for "any damage" caused by their dog. See G.L. ch. 140, § 155. The statute is still broad enough to impose liability for a personal injury caused by a knockdown because even after the amendment, G.L. ch. 140, § 155 it is "general" in its terms. See Rossi v. DelDuca, 344 Mass. 66, 69, 71 (1968) (Court held owner was liable for "injuries" caused by the dog because the object of the statute is "to protect from injury by dogs").

It has been my position that if the legislature believed the Court in Canavan and Hathaway had erred in holding that G.L. ch. 140, § 155 applied to knockdowns and playful jumping, then the legislature would have narrowed liability to just dog bites as opposed to "any damage." In Koller v. Duggan, 346 Mass. 270, 273 (1962) the Court held that recovery under G.L. ch. 140, § 155 is only precluded if the plaintiff teases, torments or abuses such a dog. The statute specifically precludes recovery only when the plaintiff "at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog." M.G.L.A. ch. 140, § 155; see Malchanoff v. Truehart, 354 Mass. 118, 122 (1968).

Therefor based on the foregoing the following is a list of five items which I consider the basis for a successful claim for police officers injured by dogs:
Formula for successful claims involving injuries caused by dogs

  1. Incident caused by dog which may include jumping, other playful activity, chasing, knocking over, or biting.
  2. Injured officer was legally on the premises where the incident occurred.
  3. Dog was not teased, tormented or abused prior to the incident by the officer or fellow officers.
  4. Some damage caused by the dog: scarring, sprain, fracture etc.
  5. Three years from the date of incident has not expired.
As with all claims there are no guarantees. Many police injury cases involve sophisticated legal issues, problems of proof, technical insurance policy coverage disputes and issues which arise under Massachusetts General Laws ch. 41, § 100 and § 111F. I handle these cases on a contingent fee basis where the injured officer need only pay for legal services if I successfully collect money on the claim. The fee is typically one third of the money collected and if I fail to collect money for the injured officer, the officer will owe nothing for legal services, except in some cases for out of pocket expenses. As a courtesy, I am available by telephone to answer all questions which MPA members may have regarding anything covered by this article or related topics.

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