Who is a “Keeper” of a Dog in Dog Bite Cases?

The Massachusetts dog bite law is clear.  An owner of a dog is strictly liable for damages created by the dog.  Whether it is to someone else’s property, or for personal injury.  There are the defenses of trespass and torment.  That is, if you trespass on the owner’s property where the dog is, or torment the dog, and the owner can prove this, it is a defense to strict liability.

Keepers of Dogs are Liable in Dog Bite Cases

The Massachusetts dog bite law also provides that the “keeper” of a dog is also strictly liable.  But who is a keeper?  First, the courts have pointed out that keepership is a question of fact.  See O’Donnell v. Pollock, 170 Mass. 441, 49 N.E. 745 (1897).  This case, more than 116 years old, has led to many other decisions, including one in 1990 which held that a keeper is someone who is “harboring with an assumption of custody, management and control of the dog.”  See Brown v. Bolduc, 556 N.E.2d 1051, 29 Mass.App.Ct.909 .

There are many other definitions of “keeper” so we will explore some of what the courts have said.  The cases have noted that the “mere presence” of a dog is not keepership.  The Court has said that it is not a matter of law that someone who keeps a dog on his premises feeds and caresses the dog is not necessarily a keeper by definition.  Again, it’s a question of fact.  And someone who has a dog for a short period of time is not, by law, a keeper.

A Minnesota court noted that keeping a dog is more than “harboring” the dog for a short, or limited, period of time.  It means having the dog for an amount of time, with or without the owner’s permission, so as to be in control or care of a dog the way “dog owners in general” would.

Are Landlords Responsible for Dog Bites of their Tenant’s Dogs?

If the landlord knew, or should have known, that a dog on its property was dangerous, or had the propensity to be dangerous, it could be considered a keeper.  For example, if the landlord had the ability, under the lease, to have a dangerous dog removed, and the landlord did not, that could trigger liability on the landlord.  Or, if the landlord aided in the keeping of the dog, such as feeding and walking the dog that too could trigger liability.

Are Employers’ Responsible for Dog Bites?

If an employee is injured, at work, by the employer’s dog.  He or she may have a worker’s compensation claim against the employer.  Worker’s compensation claims, in Massachusetts, do not cover pain and suffering.

What about an employee who takes care of the employer’s dog?  It could be that if the dog injures the employee, it is not a work situation.  What if the employee takes care of the employer’s dog and the dog bites someone else.  It would depend on the facts as to who would be held responsible.

Experienced Dog Bite Attorney

If you or a loved one is injured by a dog, get expert advice.  Because this area of the law can be “fact driven” any insurance company, once put on notice, will start accumulating facts from witnesses, photographs, etc. and will be ready to oppose you.  Attorney Neil Burns, who has battled the insurance companies his whole career, is experienced.  And there is no fee until you win.

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