A plaintiff filed suit for negligence under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (Act) against the Massachusetts State Police after being attacked by a trained police dog in a parking lot. A state trooper who was an experienced dog handler had been in pursuit of a criminal through that parking lot. The plaintiff sued the police, alleging that the trooper’s conduct in releasing the police dog to capture a criminal in a public space created a foreseeable risk of harm to an innocent bystander. The lower court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the state police, reasoning that the plaintiff’s negligence claim was barred by the immunity provisions of the Act. The plaintiff appealed.In reversing, the appeals court first explained that the Act exempts a public employer from liability for any claim based on the performance of a discretionary duty by a public employee, regardless of whether that discretion is abused. The parties agreed that the state police was a public employer immunized from liability by the discretionary function exemption in the Act.
The defendants owned a dog that caused property damage and injury to the plaintiff. She filed suit against the dog owners and Vermont Mutual Insurance Company (Vermont Mutual). Vermont Mutual counterclaimed and cross-claimed, seeking a declaration that the homeowner’s policy at issue was void as a result of the insureds’ material misrepresentations on their application for insurance as to the dog’s bite history and their history of loss. Following a bench trial on the issue of coverage only, the lower court agreed with Vermont Mutual on the bite history issue and accordingly dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint against Vermont Mutual. The dog owners and the plaintiff (collectively, the appellants) jointly appealed. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals agreed with the appellants and vacated the lower court’s judgment.On December 30, 2010, the dog owner visited the Tarpey Insurance Group (Tarpey) in Peabody for the purpose of obtaining homeowner’s insurance for his residence in Peabody. With the assistance of one of Tarpey’s customer service representatives, he completed an application for insurance with Vermont Mutual. On the application, he responded “Yes” to the question, “Are there any animals or exotic pets kept on premises?” Under the “Remarks” section of the application, the representative noted, “American bull dog — no biting incidents.” Another section of the application was entitled “Loss History” and asked, “Any losses, whether or not paid by insurance, during the last 6 years, at this or at any other location?” The dog owner responded “No” and placed his initials adjacent to his response. He signed and dated the application. Vermont Mutual subsequently issued a homeowner’s policy to the the dog owners.
The city of Meriden, Connecticut recently settled a lawsuit with a Massachusetts resident who alleged negligence by the city’s Animal Control following a 2012 dog attack. City officials did not reveal the full amount of the settlement, but over the summer, the plaintiff offered to settle the case for a whopping $175,000. This suggests the final settlement is not far off from this figure.Michael Evans filed the complaint in April 2014, naming Meriden and two Animal Control officers — Bryan Kline and James Barnes — as defendants. According to his complaint, Evans was bitten by a Pitbull-Mastiff mix in April 2012 at Meriden Animal Control. He had previously been interested in adopting the dog, who was named Baby Hippo. The dog was euthanized following the attack.