Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds Police Not Immunized From Liability for Canine Attack
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.