My dog bowled over an elderly woman in a dog park. Am I liable for any injuries she may have?
November 19, 2012 6:06 AM   Subscribe

Are my dog and I in trouble ?

I took my 18 pound terrier to a fenced-in off-leash dog park yesterday. We go to this park quite a bit. There were about twenty dogs playing yesterday and my super fast dog slammed right into a 74 year old woman who was standing in the middle of the park. She was knocked off her feet and went down on her back hard. Ambulance was called and she was taken away due to back pain. Hopefully she's okay, but if she's not, what liability do I have? My dog was just bring a dog and I don't think I did anything that can be described as negligent. This is a designated dog park with rules, but I didn't think to look if it says anything about entering at your own risk. Should I be worried? We are in Massachusetts.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call and check up on her. It's the right thing to do. I'd send her a Get Well Soon card from your dog.

I agree that your dog was being a dog, and he wasn't being vicious or mean or anything.

Also, it's not like you know that your Mastiff likes to tackle little old ladies. It was a one-time thing.

In this case, it's just one of those things.

Source: People's Court, so you know, you might want to wait for a lawyer to chime in.

I will say that most people get their feelings hurt if they think that you don't care or aren't concerned.

At 74, she'll have medicare so you won't be responsible for medical bills.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:11 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ask the mods to anonymize or delete this post and consult your Massachusetts attorney immediately.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:16 AM on November 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

You have liability. This is not merely a question of medical bills. You should not send anything or say anything without consulting a lawyer.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

I usually agree with you, Ruthless Bunny, but in this case, I have to say that I would not recommend contacting the woman in any way, especially because you might inadvertently admit guilt which is a big no no.
posted by crankylex at 6:18 AM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Agreed with the above. Make this question anonymous, and don't talk to anybody except a lawyer. Definitely don't make contact with the lady. I wouldn't do anything unless you hear from her or her lawyer about them wanting money. Then lawyer up.

Do you have insurance? Renters or homeowners insurance may cover liability for this sort of thing.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You didn't do anything wrong and dogs run around in a dog run. That's their nature, but I would not contact the woman because like others have said, you don't want to admit wrongdoing when you haven't done anything wrong. Wait for contact from the woman and then contact a lawyer. I wouldn't think it is necessary to panic.

I was hit in the face by a kid with a golf club when I was 11. I had to get 11 stitches in my face and I couldn't eat for a couple of months or talk because my face was so swollen and bruised I couldn't open my mouth. Two days after the accident, the parents of the kid who hit me hired a lawyer to contact us and tell us they would pursue a counter suit if we planned to sue. I don't think your lawyer would do that but it was such an insult. You don't know that there will be a suit, so sit tight for now.
posted by Yellow at 6:29 AM on November 19, 2012

Please listen to Inspector.Gadget's advice. Lawyer now, not later.
posted by anonnymoose at 6:54 AM on November 19, 2012


"My dog was just being a dog" is not an excuse for liability. Barring some waiver by the old woman, you would be liable for any damages. It is very common, and perhaps universal, for such dog parks to have signs saying, "you enter at your own risk and this park and its employees/agents are not liable." What is much less likely is that such a sign would also waive liability against other citizens using the park.

If legal liability is a concern you have, you shouldn't contact her in any way lest it be construed as an admission of liability.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:57 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assuming you have property or renter's insurance, it would likely cover damages, and assuming the lady is a reasonable person, medical bills and the like might be simply covered in a settlement. Most of these kinds of situations don't end up in court. I would agree - do nothing unless contacted - then I'd contact insurance first.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be a human being and call her to check on her. Send a card, be nice to her. People are much less likely to be assholes to nice people. If she decides to sue, you may be liable for medical bills regardless of whether she has insurance-- the fact she has Medicaid means nothing. But a lawyer would be helpful for that, and she would have to prove negligence which seems hard with the facts you presented.
posted by katypickle at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I want to reiterate that calling her to say "I saw you taken away in the ambulance and wanted to see if you are ok,"is in no way an admission of any liability. If you talk to her, at least then you can gauge her reaction and have a better understanding of whether you need to hire a lawyer.
posted by katypickle at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

My local dog park's rule sign states that by entering, you agree you are responsible for your dog's behavior. So my dog being a dog would not be a valid excuse. That said, being a dog lover, I know things like this happen and I personally don't think I'd hold someone responsible if I were knocked over, but you situation could vary.

Ps- this is why a personal liability insurance policy is a great idea.
posted by cecic at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2012

If checking up on someone who's injuries you might have caused (even indirectly) is wrong, I want to be wrong.

Be a member of human society first; CYA second. Don't get me wrong: do both, but don't ignore the possibility that someone could be suffering from your actions, and you went and hid.

This is no different from clipping a mirror on someone's parked car; don't be the kind of person who drives away silently.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Don't "be a human being" and contact her yet; in being reasonable, you're opening the door to legal action that you may not be able to afford. It sucks that we live in such a litigious society, but acting as though we do not will cost you.

Contact your lawyer. Your dog knocked someone over; if anyone is liable, it's you, even if it wasn't intentional.
posted by ellF at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Contacting her ASAP may be the right thing to do, but only doing it WITH the advice of a lawyer. There's been studies that doctors who apologize for mistakes get sued less often. Might be a similar reaction with your case. Also I'd go to the park at about the same time that it happened in order to gather evidence. Don't bring your dog. Set up a video camera to shoot you standing in the same place she was. Shoot for an hour or two, and repeat for 3 days or so. This would either establish that it is a normal reasonably expected occurrence to have dogs jump on you, or that you may have a real problem.
posted by Sophont at 10:28 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

she would have to prove negligence

IANYL, TINLA, but this is not true in all states, and while I'm no MA dog liability expert, it does not appear to be true in Massachusetts.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2012

IANAL, however I believe Massachusetts has laws that allow you to say that you are sorry without that being taken as an admission of guilt. Contact a lawyer and check, but I think being decent and human is important, too.
posted by driley at 3:40 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't "be a human being" and contact her yet; in being reasonable, you're opening the door to legal action that you may not be able to afford. It sucks that we live in such a litigious society, but acting as though we do not will cost you.

There is no liability in *merely* expressing concern for someone. Especially when everyone knows that she got taken away in an ambulance. The liability comes when people start saying things like "my dog is usually so good" or "I'm so sorry he did that" or "I'll pay for x".

Don't act without an attorney, but don't hire an attorney that won't help you express concern in a neutral way.
posted by gjc at 7:09 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

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