The end of the school year and beginning of the summer months is a time when children and adults frequently find themselves conducting activities outdoors. This increase in human outdoor activity is also mirrored by that of man’s best friend, dogs. Although the relationship between these two species is usually pleasant, situations arise when humans fall victim to dog attacks, including dog bites. An example of such an attack occurred on May 16 in Peabody, when a Pit Bull attacked three women and a police officer. Both the animal and victims were outside of a mobile trailer home when the attack took place. One victim endured roughly 50 dog bite wounds. As a result of the vicious attack the dog was ordered to be euthanized.
Dog attacks occurring within the summertime are a frequent and disturbing headline. Many times the animals will prey upon victims who tend to be incapable of defending themselves. Such victims tend to be children or the elderly. In certain circumstances, the dogs even develop a pack mentality, attacking humans in a group, and working together to deliver potentially fatal injuries to the victim.
In Massachusetts, the owner or keeper of the animal is strictly liable for dog bites unless the victim was teasing, tormenting, trespassing, or committing another tort at the time of the attack. In order to be strictly liable, the plaintiff must prove two essential elements; (1) that the Defendant was a “keeper” of the dog and (2) that the dog inflicted the bite on the Plaintiff. Another cause of action that a plaintiff can bring against an owner or keeper of the dog is a negligence claim. In order for the Plaintiff to prevail on negligence claim the Plaintiff must prove two essential elements (1) that the dog had dangerous and vicious propensities and, (2) the Defendant had knowledge of the propensities.
Certain areas of New England are taking even further steps to prevent dog attacks and dog bites from occurring. The Police Department in Woonsocket, RI, is urging city officials to adopt breed-specific ordinances similar to those established in the neighboring towns of Pawtucket and Central Falls. These ordinances would force pit bull owners to spay or neuter the animal, register it with city authorities, and keep it leashed and muzzled in the public at all times. Further, owners of this breed also are required to have a $100,000 liability insurance coverage policy.
In the past many attacks have occurred as a result of the pit bulls’ muscular makeup and harsh treatment by the owners. Head Promoter of the ordinance, Animal Control Officer Doris Kay says that she used to think all dogs were created equal. But she says she’s learned that in Woonsocket Pit Bulls bite more often and cause more injury, than any other breed, although there is more to the story. “Virtually all of the serious injuries caused by pit bulls involve animals that are neglected by their owners,” she stated. “Most are neither spayed nor neutered, lack the necessary inoculations for rabies or other animal-borne illnesses and have never been to a veterinarian.”
Many people feel that the neglect of a few dog owners has unduly given the pit bull a harsh reputation as a ferocious and untrustworthy canine. Although the pit bull may be a product of their owner, the fact remains that, in 2008, half of all dog bites in Woonsocket were attributed to pit bulls. Carmine DiCenso, director of animal welfare at the Providence Animal Rescue League stated “that it can be a very loyal, loving breed but in the wrong hands it’s a time bomb. It is impossible to separate the breed from the socioeconomic setting in which they are often forced to live.”
The ordinance has been adopted and seen success in both Pawtucket and Central Falls. Since 2004, there has not been a serious pit bull attack within these cities. The ordinance has proven beneficial in numerous ways. It promotes the safety of individuals by mandating that owners of pit bulls be responsible people. .
For more information about your rights in connection with an injury caused by a dog bite or dog attack, or to speak with a member our legal staff, contact us or call our Boston office toll free seven days a week at 866-414-0400. There is never a charge to discuss a potential case.