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Who pays for losses related to Massachusetts dog bites?

2/4/2015

About 4.5 million U.S. residents are bitten by dogs every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 20 percent of dog bite victims require medical treatment. Reconstructive surgery was needed for 27,000 victims of dog attacks in 2012.

Massachusetts law states an animal owner or keeper is liable for the damages caused by a dog bite. A dog owner is not accountable for attacks on trespassers or individuals who tease or abuse a dog, provided the bite recipient is 7 or older.

Damages following a dog bite may include pain and suffering, lost wages and short- or long-term medical expenses. Separate damages may be recovered for disfigurement and scarring, including costs for corrective surgery. In many cases, at least some of these expenses are covered by homeowners or automotive insurance, for bites that occur on, or for vehicles, in the owner’s property.

Unfortunately, many liability policies include claim limits – typically $100,000 to $300,000 — and other restrictions, which prevent injured parties from collecting full compensation. For instance, an insurer might refuse to cover bites caused by Pit Bulls, since the dogs can be considered an aggressive breed. Some insurers “one-bite” restrictions, covering damages for the first but not subsequent dog bites.

Insurance proceeds are often less for attacks away from the animal owner’s property. An insurer is likely to pay less for the victim of a dog bite at a public park than someone bitten during a picnic in a dog owner’s backyard. Specialized pet insurance is available to bridge gaps in other liability insurance.

Some Massachusetts dog owners have no liability coverage, due to a policy exclusion or the lack of insurance. In that case, a Boston dog bite victim has the right to file a legal claim against the individual animal owner. Personal injury attorneys identify valid claims and take actions in support of bite victims.

Source: FindLaw, “Animal Bites: Who Pays Damages?” accessed Feb. 04, 2015

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