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Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws

Dogs are as much a part of Massachusetts as Cape Cod, the Boston Red Sox, and clam chowder. However, there is no escaping the truth that sometimes dogs will attack people and cause someone to suffer a personal injury or worse. 

Most people will never be dog bite victims, but for those who are, it can be a difficult incident marked by medical bills and pain and suffering. It can also be stressful if you are a dog owner and your beloved family pet is accused of a dog attack.

This article will summarize Massachusetts dog bite laws, which also cover nonbite injuries, to help you understand what may happen after a dog bite incident. We'll touch on liability, classifications for certain dogs, how injury claims may work, and much more.

Massachusetts Dog Bite Law Basics

Given how lovable most dogs are, it may be difficult to believe that over 4.5 million people in the United States suffer a dog bite every year. It's a fact, though, and almost 20% of them receive medical attention. Even the sweetest dogs can be set off by something that triggers an aggressive response.

According to Massachusetts dog bite laws, the owner is responsible if the action of their dog injures a person or if the dog causes property damage. There are some instances where this can be challenged, such as if the dog was provoked or the injured person was trespassing.

Some states have a "one-bite rule," which states that the owner doesn't have to consider their dog a threat until they have at least one bite on their record. Massachusetts does not use the one-bite rule. Owners must consider their dog(s) a potential threat regardless of whether they've bitten anyone.

Dog Bite Claims: Liability and Negligence

Massachusetts is a strict liability state regarding 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. You only have to prove that you were injured.

With dog bite cases, there's a good chance the injury claims will be covered by the dog owner's homeowner's insurance. The insurance company might resist paying the claim if the victim was trespassing on the owner's property, provoked the dog, or committed another tort that led to the injury. However, if the victim is a child under 7, the fault will always be on the owner for the dog's actions.

What Happens After a Dog Attack?

If you've suffered a dog bite injury, the first thing to do is seek medical attention. The doctor will file a claim with the local animal control officer. You should file a dog bite claim with local law enforcement, regardless of whether you will file a personal injury claim later. If possible, you should get contact information from any witnesses.

The dog will be checked for rabies and whether it has the required vaccinations. The dog must then be quarantined for 10 days, but in many cases, this can be done in the dog owner's home as long as they can keep the animal away from other people.

Massachusetts has two classifications of dogs that have bitten someone -- nuisance dogs and dangerous dogs. These can also be imposed in response to complaints filed by citizens. A public hearing will be held to determine if a dog deserves either classification.

Nuisance Dogs

A dog can be classified as a nuisance dog for transgressions that were not grossly disproportionate to the situation, such as excessive barking, showing teeth, or displaying aggressive behavior. The owner is expected to take steps to correct the dog's behavior.

Dangerous Dogs

If the hearing determines that the dog in question will attack without provocation and is indeed dangerous, the owner may be ordered to take one or more of the following steps:

  • The dog must be humanely restrained
  • The dog must be confined to the owner's property
  • If off-property, the dog must be muzzled and on a 3-foot leash
  • Liability insurance of at least $100,000 must be in place against the actions of the dog
  • Identification methods such as microchipping must be given to the local animal control officer
  • The dog must be spayed or neutered unless a veterinarian has reason to object
  • In extreme cases, the animal may be euthanized

The owner has the right to appeal any classification placed on their dog.

Massachusetts Dog Bite Statutes

The laws covering dog bites in Massachusetts can be confusing and frustrating. While it's good to refer to the statute for the letter of the law, we've summarized the main points of Massachusetts' dog bite and dog injury laws below for your convenience.


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:

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

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


The plaintiff was committing some other tort


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

Three 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 that include 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.

Questions About Massachusetts Dog Bite Laws

Every dog is different, and each case dealing with a dog bite is somewhat unique. Still, there is a fair amount of common ground. Below are some frequently asked questions that might be important to you.

My Dog Bit Someone. Does That Mean I Have To Put My Dog Down?

In all likelihood, no. Massachusetts understands how much people love their dogs and considers euthanizing a dog the absolute last resort. That being said, it is an option if it seems the dog is too unsafe.

I Was Playing With My Neighbor's Dog, and He Nipped Me. It Doesn't Seem Bad. Should I See a Doctor?

It's never bad to err on the side of caution regarding what might be considered a dog bite. If you're trying to decide if a dog was playfully roughhousing or was aggressive, there is a scale that might help.

In any case, at the very least, you should thoroughly cleanse the area if your skin is broken. If you have any doubts, see a medical professional.

Is It True There Are Some Breeds That Don't Bite?

Absolutely not. Any dog from any breed has the potential to bite someone. If a dog becomes frightened, protective, or feels threatened, they can respond with aggression. Many victims of dog bites are attacked by dogs they know, even family pets.

Research the Law

  • Massachusetts Code: Massachusetts General Laws and Constitution.
  • Massachusetts Laws: 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 someone else's dog has injured you, seek medical attention before anything else. After that, you may want to make an injury claim to recover your medical expenses. If so, it might be a good idea to contact a Massachusetts dog bite attorney to help you. Their expertise can help guide you through your upcoming legal journey.

If your dog has been accused of biting, you may be able to claim certain defenses. With your furry friend in the balance, contacting a Massachusetts animal bite injury attorney might make a big difference.

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