Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

You were strolling along a suburban Boston sidewalk on a sunny afternoon when a friendly golden retriever rushed toward you and knocked your cane from your hand. You took a hard tumble and fell, breaking your hip. The dog wasn't ferocious, just a little too excited, but now you're seriously injured and need medical attention. Since the dog was in its front yard before the incident, it would be hard to prove the owner was negligent; but it doesn't matter, the owner is liable for your injuries.

The following sections summarize Massachusetts dog bite laws, which also cover non-bite injuries.

Massachusetts Dog Bites: Liability and Negligence

Massachusetts is a strict liability state with respect to dog bites and any other injury caused by a dog. This means you don't have to prove the owner or keeper was negligent in their handling (or mishandling) of the animal, only that you were injured. However, you won't have a valid claim if you were trespassing, provoked the dog, or committed another tort that led to the injury.

Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws: The Basics

If you've never dealt with it before, you may not know where to begin when researching laws related to dog bites in Massachusetts. While it's good to always go to the statute for the letter of the law, we've also summarized the main points of Massachusetts' dog bite and dog injury laws below for your convenience.

Statutes

Massachusetts General Laws: Chapter 140, Section 155, et seq.

Strict Liability for Dog-Related Injuries

If a dog does damage to another person's body or property (not limited to just bites), the owner is strictly liable for those injuries.

This includes injuries to livestock or other personal property (such as fences).

Grounds for Legally Killing a Dangerous Dog

Anyone who is assaulted by a dog while "peaceably standing, walking, or riding" outside the dog's enclosure may kill the dog.

Anyone who witnesses a dog "worrying, wounding, or killing persons or livestock" that is out of its enclosure and not under the immediate control of the owner may kill the dog.

Anyone who kills a dog under these circumstances shall notify the dog's owner (or an animal control officer) immediately.

Reporting Nuisance or Dangerous Dogs

Anyone may file a complaint for a dog they believe to be a nuisance or dangerous;

This doesn't apply where the dog was reacting to another dog or a person, and its actions weren't grossly disproportionate to any of the following circumstances:

  1. The dog was protecting or defending itself, its offspring, another domestic animal, or a person from attack or assault;
  2. The person attacked was committing a crime upon the property or the dog's keeper;
  3. The person attacked was tormenting or provoking the dog; or
  4. The person attacked had breached the dog's enclosure.

Note: This is not an appropriate action for dogs who are merely growling, barking, or of a certain breed.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

Here are some of the common defenses to dog bite claims:

  • The plaintiff was trespassing;
  • The plaintiff was "teasing, tormenting, or abusing" the dog; or
  • The plaintiff was committing some other tort.

Note: If the individual injured by a dog is a minor under the age of 7, it's presumed that they were neither trespassing, provoking the dog, nor committing any other tort prior to the incident.

Time Limit for Filing Claim

3 years (Massachusetts Civil Statute of Limitations) for personal injury and injury to personal property claims.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • Massachusetts Code - FindLaw's hosted version of Massachusetts General Laws and Constitution.
  • Massachusetts Laws - FindLaw's summaries of select Massachusetts laws, including criminal, injury, employment, family, and small business laws.

Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

Filing a Dog Bite Claim in Massachusetts? Get Professional Legal Help

If you've been injured by someone else's dog, whether it bit you or knocked you over and caused an injury, you may file a claim in most cases without having to prove a prior incident. However, the dog's owner may claim certain defenses. It's in your best interests to contact a Massachusetts animal bite injury attorney before filing a claim.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.