By: Leslie S. Harkavy, Esquire
In the news just last week, two German Shepherd Dogs in Lakeville, Massachusetts bit an 8-year-old boy. According to 7 News Boston, the the attack occurred while the boy was simply spending time with his family. The location of the attack was in Ted Williams Park in Lakeville, according to Animal Control officers.
The unleashed dogs left puncture wounds in the little boy’s skin and legs and also cut through his clothes. The young boy’s worried parents are looking for some answers. The little boy was just riding his bicycle in the park. Suddenly, the two Shepherd dogs went after the bicycle wheels. The dogs chased him until he threw himself into some nearby bushes to escape.
Apparently, the owners of the dog responsible for this incident left the park without providing their identity. The parents do not know if these dogs are vaccinated for rabies. Without this information, the little boy will need to be put through a series of expensive rabies shots. The family is now looking for the owner of the dog. The only description they have is of a middle-aged man, near seventy years old with white/blonde hair and a thick mustache and average build.
This scenario is not uncommon.
In our practice at Nadeau Harkavy LLC, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we hear of many unfortunate situations such as this. Often we get calls where our potential clients have been hurt, bitten or attacked by unleashed dogs causing injuries. If this happens to you, it is important for you to know what to do.
Here is our list of our suggestions for what you should do if you are attacked, bit or harmed by a dog.
Six things to do when attacked by a dog:
- Get the identity of the dog walker and its owner. In the moments following an injury and dog attack, your focus will not be on getting the identity of the dog walker and its owner, but it needs to be. Once the dog walker and/or owner leave the scene, it will be nearly impossible to track them down again. We have noticed more dog attack cases involving dogs with dog walkers. It is crucial to get the identity of both the owner of the dog and the dog walker as one or both may be legally responsible. Also, one may have insurance to cover you and the other may not.
As such, it is imperative to request both the dog walker and owner’s names, telephone number, address and the dog’s name. If you are with someone, request to see a license or identification to confirm the name and address of the party. It is crucial to obtain the name, address, phone number and dog type. We can’t stress this enough. We have noticed an uptick in dog attacks and the victims not having the needed information to pursue a claim.
Also request a rabies vaccination. Without accurate identification, you may need an unfortunate series of expensive rabies shots and incur other medical expenses and monetary loss.
- Seek medical care. While securing the identity of the owner and keeper is of utmost importance, obtaining the proper medical care for the injury is crucial. Do this as soon as possible. The risk of infection from a dog attack is too great to ignore.
In Massachusetts, healthcare providers must report any bite by a domestic animal to a person within 24 hours, to the Animal Inspector where the bite occurred. Often times, we see notations directly in our client’s medical records that the animal control officer was in fact notified by the hospital staff.
The specific Massachusetts reporting statute reads as follows:
“Every physician attending or treating a case of dog attack or whenever any such case is treated in a hospital, sanatorium or other institution, the manager, superintendent or other person in charge thereof, shall report such case within twenty-four hours to the inspector of animals of the city or town where such dog attack occurred; provided, however, that if such city or town does not have an inspector of animals said report shall be made to the officer.” M.G.L. c.112 § 12z
This is a very important statute for a dog attack victim and helps create a record on the local level.
- Photographs. Be sure to photograph all wounds, including bruises. Also obtain a photograph of the dog that hurt you. Try to take a photograph of the license plate of the dog owner. Later on, this will be helpful to confirm the identity of the dog owner and/or walker that caused your injury.
- File your own dog attack report with the local Animal Control Officer. Take the time to locate the contact information for the local Animal Control Officer. These days this is something incredibly easy to look up on a Town’s Website. This is necessary to help you document your injury. It will also assist in creating a record on file with the Animal Control Office. The animal control officer can verify if the dog is up to date on all vaccinations including rabies. They will open a file of the incident and begin to investigate the incident. They will decide if the dog needs to be quarantined.
A dog officer will, among other things:
Obtain the dog’s rabies vaccination history;
Determine the breed of dog;
Obtain contact information of the individual who owns the dog;
Determine if there is any past history of violence or dangerous propensities;
Get the contact information of the responsible person during quarantine;
Obtain a version of events from the person who owns the dog; and
Locate all information pertaining to the dog’s license.
- Investigate. A Freedom of Information Act Request goes to the Dog Officer in the town where the dog lives. The request may include such information as the dog license information and any records pertaining to its previous history. Has the dog bitten or attacked a person prior to your incident? Is this dog in particular or type of dog in general considered dangerous?
Certain breeds like Pit Bulls are considered dangerous because they contribute to 66% of all deaths caused by dog attacks in the United States. Other breeds like Rottweilers account for 10.4 percent of all deaths. The German shepherds breed accounts for 4.6% of deaths from dog attacks.
- Contact an attorney to help you understand the law. Legal issues surrounding dog bites and dog attacks are often difficult. A dog bite lawyer will be able to look after your own best interests. This is true especially if you begin to accumulate medical bills in response to the dog bite or dog attack injury. This is also true if the dog’s owner is being uncooperative.
A dog bite attorney will be familiar with the law and be able to advise you on it. Dog bite law combines city, county and state laws. In Massachusetts – M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155, says that a keeper is strictly liable for personal injuries (although there are exceptions).
Aside from strict liability, the claim can be made under a negligence theory. This requires a different form of proof for the injured party and allows for additional defenses for the dog owner.
The Massachusetts dog bite statute M.G.L. c. 140, Section 155, reads as follows: Liability for damage caused by a dog; minors, presumption and burden of proof:
“If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, is under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action.”
In addition to the dog bite statute, most jurisdictions have local leash laws that you should be familiar with. Local laws require a dog to be on or off leash vary by town and by park. Depending on the circumstances surrounding a dog bite, it is important to know the rules and regulations of the specific location of the incident, for allowing a dog to be off leash. A lawyer will assist and help you learn the law of the place where the accident occurred.
When anyone sustains an injury due to a dog attack or dog bite, a thorough investigation of the accident events is necessary to determine the identity of the owners and keepers and the background information concerning the dog. As a victim of a dog bite injury, be sure to do everything you can to protect your interests. The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC, located in the heart of the City of Cambridge in Harvard Square, help personal injury victims and their families recover damages for their losses in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from dog bite injuries and attacks throughout the state of Massachusetts. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to a dog bite accident, wrongful death or other accident, feel free to contact us for a free consult today at 617-674-7640.