When The Dog Bites

A Note from our Vice President, Liability Claims Manager, Pauline Skiver


Statistics don’t lie. Report after report, including one from the American Veterinary Medical Association, show that for Americans, dogs remain the preferred pet, and by a large margin. Your own household may be among the estimated 69 million that happily include a dog. But sometimes Man’s Best Friend is anything but friendly. Recently we have been experiencing an uptick in dog bite claims including claims being pursued by veterinary personnel.

While there are other definitions, a Keeper of a dog is someone who was harboring a dog with an assumption of custody, management, and control of the animal. The Massachusetts dog bite statute imposes strict liability on either the owner or keeper of the dog, and the courts have recognized that Keepership is a question of fact.

MGL Chapter 140, Section 155 – Liability of Owner for Damage by Dog states, “If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog”.

Of interest relative to this recent uptick in dog bite claims is the Salisbury vs. Ferioli case heard before the Massachusetts courts in 2000. The case involved a Veterinary Tech/Plaintiff who brought legal action against a dog owner and others under the dog statute, G.L.c 140, s. 155 for injuries resulting from a dog bite. In this case, the court ruled that the owner of the dog surrendered all custody of the animal to the veterinary clinic, rendering the Veterinary Technician/Plaintiff the “keeper” of the dog. The Veterinary Technician was therefore precluded from maintaining an action under the statute against the dog owner for injuries resulting from this dog bite incident.

We may have the same affection for dogs that so many of us share, but we need to know and understand pertinent case law to do our job. As liability adjusters we at Friedline and Carter Adjustment, LLC, work hard to remain apprised of any laws that could potentially affect the outcome of a claim.

Connect with Pauline:
508‐771‐3232 Ext. 245