Massachusetts Puts Landlords on the Hook for Dangerous Pit Bulls

Victims of dog bites or dog attacks in Massachusetts now have the right to sue not only the dog's owner, but the owner's landlord, if the landlord has reason to know that the dog was dangerous because of previous reports or is of a breed "commonly known to be aggressive," such as a pit bull.

In Nutt v. Florio, the Massachusetts Appeals Court found that a child who had been bitten by a pit bull, unprovoked, had the right to sue the dog owner's landlord since the child's parents had previously reported concerns about the dog to the landlord, and the landlord failed to act.

This case opens the door for dog bite injury victims because in many cases, the dog's owner does not carry liability insurance for the dog, so the victim cannot usually obtain compensation, even if he or she wins a personal injury award. Landlords, however, usually carry liability insurance for injuries occurring on their properties. And where landlords know or have reason to know of dangers on their properties, they have a duty to correct the danger.

Despite Recent Attacks on Children, Pit Bull Owners Support the Breed

The law in Nutt v. Florio makes clear that responsible parties that fail to act to protect children, neighbors and other pets may be held liable for animal attacks. But owners of pit bulls condemn breed-specific legislation and ordinances as difficult to enforce. They argue that pit bulls that attack humans are rare and caused by bad breeding habits and that other breeds may also attack, but would not be covered by breed-specific laws. Others, including veterinarians say that dogs with breed heritage that includes pit bull may be difficult to identify.

Parents of Victims Argue for Enforcement Against Pit Bulls

Parents of children who have been attacked argue that the pit bull is an especially aggressive breed that should be subjected to an outright ban. While no legislation exists that will ban pit bulls outright, some states and many cities have considered an outright ban or stricter requirements on pit bulls. Certain city ordinances include muzzling and leashing pit bulls, prohibiting more than one pit bull at a residence, displaying warning signs and requiring permission from landlords.

As landlord may be held responsible party and ultimately pay a claim to a child after an animal attack in Massachusetts, it is clear that Massachusetts should consider some type of notice requirement for tenants who own pit bulls.

Another protection for landlords should include the ability for the landlord to require a tenant to leave the property if the landlord learns that a dog has dangerous propensities. Landlords should not wait until a child has been bitten before taking action against a dangerous dog on their premises.

If you have suffered an injury from a dog bite attack, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable dog bite attorney can help you understand complex dog bite liability issues.