If you are the victim of a dog bite in Massachusetts, the law may entitle you to compensation for your medical expenses and other associated damages. However, to take advantage of the law, you must meet certain requirements. One such requirement pertains to filing and, more specifically, the filing deadline.
The Statute of Limitations
All states have a filing deadline for both civil and criminal actions. This filing deadline, in legal speak, is called “the statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations is the timeframe in which you have to file a cause of action before you lose your legal right to recovery or justice. In most personal injury cases, the proverbial clock starts running on the date of your accident or incident. In rare cases, it will start ticking on the date you discover your injury, given that the discovery occurred after reasonable efforts.
Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites in MA
In Massachusetts, the timeframe in which you file a dog bite claim is fairly generous, at three years. This is the same statute of limitations that applies to all personal injury cases throughout the state, and a year longer than the time limits in many other states. Because it is easy to determine the date of injury in a dog bite case, the clock starts ticking on the date of your attack.
What Happens If You Miss the Statute of Limitations?
If you fail to file your dog bite claim within the three-year period, you may forfeit your right to recover compensation for your losses. Though the courts may allow you to file the claim regardless, once they discover that you failed to do so within the statute of limitations, they have the right to dismiss your case. If the courts do not dismiss your case automatically, the opposition may request that the courts throw it out. Upon receiving the request, the courts must honor it.
Because you risk losing your right to recovery if you miss the filing deadline, it is crucial that you take immediate action to secure your rights to compensation as soon after your dog bite as possible. The best way to do this is by consulting with a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer. The right attorney can assess the strength of your case and, if he or she determines you have a case, help you meet all pertinent deadlines.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
Massachusetts’s courts allow very few exceptions to the statute of limitations. If you think you will need an extension for any reason, it is crucial that you submit a request with the courts right away. The courts review extensions on a case-by-case basis.
Outside of special requests, there are select circumstances that typically warrant an extension. Those are as follows:
- You were a minor at the time of the attack.
- You were not mentally competent at the time of or the period following the attack.
- The defendant (or the dog owner) was out of the country for a substantial length of time following the attack.
- The defendant evaded the courts by fraudulent means.
If you were a minor when the dog bit you, the statute of limitations on your case does not begin running until you reach the age of 18. Once you turn 18, you have three years from your 18th birthday to file a cause of action against the negligent dog owner.
Though the courts do make exceptions in some cases, you should not count on leniency. Unless your situation is extreme, the courts are likely to dismiss your case if you file outside of the statute of limitations.
Other Pertinent Dog Bite Laws in Massachusetts
If you hope to bring a legal claim for a dog bite or animal-related injury in Massachusetts, it may help to familiarize yourself with other relevant dog bite laws. Below are a few worth noting.
Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute
According to the main dog bite statute in MA, dog owners or keepers become liable for any personal injury or property damage that an animal causes if the victim of the attack was not trespassing, committing a crime or provoking the dog at the time of or leading up to the incident. It is worth noting that this law applies to all situations in which an animal causes harm, and not just in cases of dog bites.
For instance, if a dog runs up, jumps on you and knocks you down, and if you sustain a head injury in the process, the law entitles you to compensation for any losses you sustained as a result. It also entitles you to compensation for any property damage a dog causes. Property damage can be something as major as killed livestock, something more moderate such as a destroyed fence or something trivial, such as a chewed pair of boots.
Strict Liability Laws
Some states have one-bite laws for dog bites. In one-bite states, dogs have a “free pass,” so to speak, for their first aggressive instance toward a human or another animal. In these states, if a dog with no known history of aggression causes another person, pet or livestock harm, the injured party cannot sue for damages. Only once an owner knows about a dog’s aggressive tendencies can he or she assume liability.
Other states, such as Massachusetts, maintain strict liability laws. In strict liability states, dog owners assume liability for any and all harm their animals cause, regardless of whether they knew about their aggressive tendencies. Whether an animal attacks for the first time or the third time, the law will hold the owner accountable for the ensuing damages.
In some situations, dog owners may face criminal charges for their canines’ actions. For instance, you may press criminal charges if a dog attacks you and the owner either encourages it or does nothing to stop the attack.
Massachusetts Leash Laws
Massachusetts maintains strict leash laws that prohibit dogs from being off their leashes in public spaces. If an unrestrained dog bites a person or another domestic animal in public, or if it causes property damage, the law may hold the owner accountable.
Situations in Which the Owner Is Not Liable
Despite strict liability laws, there are certain circumstances in which the law will not hold dog owners accountable for their pets’ actions. For instance, if you provoke a dog or trespass on private property and sustain harm in the process, the courts may let the dog and its owner off the hook. The same is true if a dog attacks you while you are in the process of committing a crime or another tort.
When To Contact a Dog Bite Attorney
If a dog bites you in Massachusetts, and if the resulting damages are enough to warrant legal action, know that time is of the essence, as you only have three years to initiate the dog bite claims process. If you fail to file a claim within that three-year window, you may forfeit your right to compensation entirely. To avoid such an outcome, the best thing you can do following an animal attack is to contact a reputable dog bite attorney. A skilled lawyer can assess your situation, determine if you have a case and, if so, help you do what is necessary to start the legal process.
The good news is that a consultation will not cost you anything. When you schedule an initial meeting with Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, rest assured, There’s No Obligation. Just Information ®.