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What you need to know about Massachusetts dog bites

Dog bites happen. Actually, they happen a lot; there are nearly five million reported dog bites in America every year, and over 800,000 hospital or doctor visits for people injured by them. Most of these are suffered by children, due in no small part to the fact that they are both naturally more curious about animals and tend to be unaware of dog behaviors that might caution an adult to stay away.

If you or your child has been bitten by a dog in Massachusetts, you will likely have questions and concerns. You are worried about the obvious things anyone who has been injured faces, like:

  • Concern about possible scarring, infection or other complications
  • Pain
  • Trying to figure out how to pay for the required care, especially if you have little or no health insurance
  • Getting adequate medical treatment
  • Psychological issues, particularly an intense fear of animals after a dog bite

You are also probably stressed about taking the time off from work for doctor visits, the need for plastic surgery to minimize scars, and concerned about rapidly mounting medical expenses. You may even be angry, and want to know who should be held responsible.

The legislature’s role

The Massachusetts legislature has done their part to make the difficult situation of a dog bite easier to deal with by enacting straightforward laws holding pet owners liable for the injuries their animals cause. The state’s dog bite law – codified in Title 20, Section 155 of the state’s “Public Health and Good Order” statute – imposes what is known in legal circles as “strict liability” on the owner of a dog that has bitten someone legally in the presence of the animal. The law also specifically assigns liability to owners of dogs who have bitten children under the age of seven, leaving it up to the pet owner to prove that the dog was provoked in such a way as to make a bite legally excusable.

Staying safe

There are certain steps that anyone can take to lessen the chance that a dog bite injury will occur. The national Centers for Disease Control has some tips that can help people – especially children – stay safe around animals:

  • Not approaching unfamiliar animals
  • Never disturbing a dog when she is eating, tending to puppies, sleeping or behaving aggressively (barking at another dog, growling, etc.)
  • Remaining still when approached by an unknown animal (fighting the natural instinct to run away)
  • Avoiding direct eye contact with dogs

Even if all the CDC’s tips are observed, the sad fact is that millions of people will be bitten annually, and thousands of those will be so severely injured they will need reconstructive surgery. Taking basic precautions is definitely advisable, but if the unthinkable happens and you or a loved one is injured by a pet, a local personal injury attorney can give you more information about legal options that might be available to you that could help take some of the worry off your shoulders.

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