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Dog Bites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts

Karns & Kerrison

In Rhode Island, if someone is bitten by a dog outside of the enclosure of the owner or keeper of the dog, then the dog owner or keeper is strictly liable for the injuries sustained caused by the dog bites.

If the bite occurs within the enclosure of the owner or keeper then it must be shown that the dog had a propensity for violence (having attacked someone before).

The definition of enclosure can be the house or apartment or the yard where the dog is kept.

The law in Rhode Island makes the dog owner liable and also makes any person who knowingly allows the dog to be on their land such as a landlord, even if they do not own the dog, equally liable (this would be the keeper).

The key to strict liability in these cases is whether or not the attack took place within the enclosure (if outside of the enclosure there is strict liability) or whether or not the dog had bitten someone before (propensity for violence). Therefore, in Rhode Island to have strict liability the attack must have taken place outside of the enclosure or if within the enclosure the dog must have attacked before.

In Massachusetts, if a dog bites or attacks someone the owner or keeper is strictly liable for such damage unless such damage occurred when the person attacked was trespassing or committing some other wrong doing or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog. However, if a minor under the age of seven years is bitten or attacked it is presumed that there was no trespass or other wrong doing or teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog.

Therefore, in Massachusetts there is strict liability unless the person attacked was trespassing or committing some other wrong doing or teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog. If the person attacked is under seven years of age then there is a presumption of no wrong doing on the part of the child under seven years of age and it is up to the owner or keeper to prove the child under seven years of age was doing this wrongful activity.

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