When is a Dog Owner Responsible for A Dog Bite?

A dog bite can range from a minor scratch to a fatal mauling. No matter how serious the severity of the dog bite, any animal attack can be a traumatic experience. The law surrounding dog bites and negligence may be unclear and some may wonder how you can be compensated for an animal attack.

Rhode Island State Law is quite clear on the matter. If a dog bite occurs outside of a pet’s enclosure (i.e. outside the home in a public park or on a sidewalk) then the owner of the pet is strictly liable for any and all injury that the dog causes. Strict liability means that the circumstances as to why the attack occurred are irrelevant – the owner is always responsible!

If the attack occurred inside the home (the pet’s enclosure) then the homeowner is not necessarily liable. This may be a surprise to many people who think that a homeowner is obligated to control his pet at all times. However, if the pet is inside his enclosure and the owner has no reason to believe that the pet is a danger to anyone (i.e. the dog is not a pit bull, akita, or other dangerous breed, and the dog has never attacked anyone in the past) then the owner is not liable for the attack. If, however, the dog is a dangerous breed, or if the dog has bitten a victim in the past, then the homeowner is on notice that the dog is dangerous and is responsible for any injury suffered no matter where it occurs.

Massachusetts, also has very favorable laws for victims of dog bites. The owner of a dog is strictly liable for any attack on a person unless that person was teasing, tormenting, or otherwise harassing the animal.

In Massachusetts, the law also says that a child under 7 can not be responsible for tormenting or teasing the dog. Therefore, in Mass, a homeowner is always responsible for injuries inflicted on a child under 7. Tragically, children are the most common victims of dog bites. This may be attributed to the fact that children are on the same height level as dogs and because children do not yet understand the danger that some dogs may present.

The vast majority of homeowner’s policies will cover dog bite attacks and pay the customary personal injury debts including: medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The amount paid to a victim for pain and suffering also includes compensation for scarring which is, unfortunately, a common result of a dog bite. The value of a scar depends on many variables, including but not limited to, the location on the body and the severity and length of the scar.


I have handled many dog bite cases in the past both in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. These are serious injuries that require an experienced attorney. If you or a friend or family member has been bitten or attacked by a dog, contact my office right away for a free consultation.

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