Massachusetts Appeals Court Allows Dog Bite Case Against Landlord to Proceed

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has allowed the claim of a child who was bitten by a dog to proceed to trial against the landlords, even though the landlords did not own the dog.  The ruling reverses a lower court ruling in favor of the landlord.

The plaintiff was ten years old when he was attacked by a pit bull named Tiny. Tiny belonged to another tenant in the same 4-family building. Tiny had been found in the woods and adopted by the family. Tiny had demonstrated some aggressive behavior prior to the date of the incident.  The plaintiff’s family maintained that they had lodged multiple complaints with the landlords about not just the presence of the dog, but also its aggressive behavior. The landlords were also informed that Tiny was allowed to roam unrestrained, a violation of the Waltham leash law. The landlords claimed they had no knowledge that the dog might be dangerous.

The landlords had a no-dog policy for the premises, but failed to enforce that policy with regard to Tiny.  In fact, the plaintiff’s family had previously given up its dogs because of the landlords’ policy.

On the date of the incident, Tiny was sitting on a porch, unrestrained, then ran across the yard, jumped a fence, and bit the plaintiff who was playing in the neighbor’s yard. The ten-year old had mulitiple dog bite injuries to his leg.

The Superior Court judge ruled that the landlords were not negligent, and that the fears of the pit bull were “subjective.”  The Appeals Court disagreed.

In Massachusetts, a third party such as a landlord, is not liable under the Massachusetts strict liability statute governing dogs. While a dogs owner or keeper is strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog, a third party can be liable only if he or she is negligent. A landlord does not insure that the property will be safe, and has a duty to use reasonable care for the premises.  Thus, in this case, the plaintiff is required to prove that the landlord knew or should have known of the dangers of the dog.  The landlords could not be held liable just on the fact that the dog was of a dangerous breed, but could be held liable if they had knowledge of its dangerous behavior.

The Appeals Court also noted that negligence cases are ordinarily best left to a jury’s consideration, since the cases often turn on disputed facts. Given the disputed facts in this case, namely whether the landlord had received reports of the dog’s dangerous behavior, the case was sent back to the Superior Court for trial.

The name of the case is Nutt v. Florio, Appeals Court No. 08-P-81 (October 19, 2009).  

Dog Bite Cases in Massachusetts

Ordinarily, dog bite cases in Massachusetts will be against the owner of the dog under strict liability principles pursuant to Massachusetts law. If you have been bitten by a dog or attacked by another domestic animal, you should seek prompt legal assistance once you have undergone necessary medical treatment.

The attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck have decades of experience handling dog bite and animal attacks, not just against the owners of the animals, but also against negligent property owners under theories of premises liability. Call our experienced dog bite lawyers today for a free consultation. 800-379-1244.

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