Most dog attack cases fall under the jurisdiction of the civil court. This is because the laws protect victims of personal injury from the financial consequences of a dog attack. Still, the criminal court will also get involved when the dog owner’s actions warrant a misdemeanor or felony charge. So if you suffered an injury in a dog attack because the dog owner behaved with the intent to harm or violated the laws that govern dangerous dogs, you could get justice through both civil and criminal court.
Civil vs. Criminal Liability in a Dog Bite Case
Civil liability for a dog attack typically follows the legal principle of strict liability. In most cases, the dog owner is responsible for the dog’s actions, and the law does not consider whether the dog has an aggressive history or whether the owner did everything possible to avoid or stop the attack. A few states follow the “one-bite” rule, which makes the dog owner liable if they knew or should have known the dog was capable of being aggressive or vicious. Civil and criminal liability specifics can vary significantly from state to state.
Some states mandate specific criminal laws for dog attack incidents. For example, suppose someone intentionally encourages or provokes their dog to attack you. Then the dog owner could be charged with a form of assault. The severity of the charge and penalty depends on various factors, including state law. To understand the specific criminal penalties the dog owner may face, you want to understand the dangerous dog laws in your state.
State-Mandated Dangerous Dog Laws
Every state mandates laws to protect the public from dangerous dogs, starting with what defines a dog that could be dangerous. For example, Massachusetts has two definitions for dogs:
- A nuisance dog barks excessively or causes damage or interference that any reasonable person would find disruptive or annoying. This definition also includes dogs that threaten or attack livestock, domestic animals, or people in a way that is not a disproportionate reaction to the situation in which the threat or attack occurred.
- A dangerous dog attacks a person, domestic animal, or livestock, causing significant physical damage or death. A reasonable person would not deem the dog’s actions justified. These dogs are an imminent threat to the public and other animals.
In Massachusetts and all other states with dangerous dog definitions, owners of a dog deemed dangerous have specific restrictions for ownership, and violating those restrictions could result in criminal charges if the dog injures or kills another person.
Restrictions for Dangerous Dogs
Once a dog is declared dangerous, the owner must follow specific criteria to maintain ownership. Most states have rules such as keeping a “beware of dog” sign, having the dog locked away in an enclosure, identifying the dog with a tattoo or microchip, keeping the dog within city or county borders, purchasing liability insurance, or having a special license for the dog.
In Massachusetts, the law states that the judge may order any of the following after categorizing a dog as dangerous:
- Sterilization or euthanization of the dog
- Muzzle and leash the dog when taking it off the property
- Confine the dog to the home or an enclosed area on the property
- Provide proof of liability insurance to pay for damages in the event of an attack
- Restrict ownership transfer of the dog unless the potential new owner is aware of the dog’s dangerous status
- Provide identifying information about the dog to the licensing authority or animal control
- Restricting the ownership, care, or custody of the dog to people over the age of 17 only
- Humanely restraining the dog at all times
In most states, including Massachusetts, dog owners have the right to appeal the court’s decision to label their dog as dangerous. However, they must provide credible evidence and file the appeal within the 10 days following the decision.
Dogs as Dangerous Weapons
Using a dog to commit an assault could label the dog as a dangerous weapon. As a result, the dog owner could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, or aggravated battery, depending on the circumstances. While rare, dog owners have been charged with negligent homicide or second-degree murder for using their dangerous dog to attack someone. If you lost someone you love as the result of a dog attack, you could potentially file a wrongful death case to recover compensation for economic losses, such as the medical bills the deceased collected, and non-economic losses, such as the emotional distress caused by your loss.
What To Do After a Dog Attack
There are a few things you could do as soon as you can after a dog attack to support a potential civil claim or hold the dog owner criminally responsible. First, document everything. Take photographs of your injuries, and collect names and contact information from anyone present during the attack. The standard of proof is higher for criminal charges than for proving civil liability. Therefore, eyewitnesses can be a vital source of evidence.
Report the attack to the police and see a doctor. For example, suppose the dog owner encouraged the dog to attack you or failed to restrain the dog in accordance with the state-mandated restrictions for dangerous dogs. In that case, you would need to report the incident to the proper authorities, including the police and the local animal control. Seeing a doctor is essential for your health and another source of reporting the incident. Most states, including Massachusetts, require healthcare professionals who treat dog attack injuries to report the attack to the appropriate authority.
Finally, talk to a dog attack injury lawyer. An attorney can help you make the appropriate decision about your case. Most work on contingency, so you do not need to worry about paying an attorney for the initial consultation.
Schedule a Consultation With a Dog Attack Lawyer
Not everyone understands the nuances of the laws that govern owning a dangerous dog or experiencing a dog attack. If you suffered severe injuries or lost valuable property, you likely have questions about how to recover those losses and what legal options are available for similar cases. If the dog attack occurred because of an intent to harm, you have the right to see the dog owner held civilly and criminally responsible for their actions, and a dog attack injury lawyer can help you. When you hire legal representation in a dog attack case, they will investigate the incident, collect evidence to support your civil claim, and ensure you get the compensation you need and deserve to get your life back on track.
You do not need to tackle the legal system alone while trying to heal, physically and emotionally, from a devastating attack. Your attorney will take care of everything so you can shift your focus back to recovery. At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, our team of experienced dog attack injury lawyers knows the burdens you face, including the financial losses common in dog attacks. To help alleviate some of that burden, the first element of the Stone Cold Guarantee states that we only get paid when you get paid. The criminal court will hold the dog owner responsible for their actions, but in civil court, we make sure they pay for the emotional and financial losses they caused. Contact Jason Stone Injury Lawyers for your free consultation.