Common Dog Owner Defenses | Zirkin & Schmerling

Common Dog Owner Defenses

most common defenses for dog owners

Dog owners may make many defensive arguments if their pet bites or attacks someone. It is human nature to be defensive, especially in support of one’s children or pets. It is also unsurprising that an owner of a dog that has bitten someone would want to avoid financial loss as a result of a lawsuit. Obviously, the dog owner will mount a defense. However, there are only three legal defenses that matter in Maryland. Read on to learn more about these defenses. 

Dog Bites are Increasingly Common

If you have been injured as a result of a dog bite or attack, you need to know that you are not alone. The number of pet dogs in the United States has steadily increased, from 68 million in 2000 to 89.7 million in 2017 (NIH). Approximately 49.3% of American households now own dogs.  Unfortunately, sometimes these beloved pets are not always the “good boys” their owners wish they were. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that between the years 2008 and 2013, there was an average of 337,103 Emergency Department visits each year for dog bites.

Additionally, someone doesn’t have to actually have been bitten in order to have been injured by a rambunctious or attacking dog. Dogs can knock people off their feet or push them into dangerous surfaces even when they are being friendly. These types of falls can result in broken limbs and other injuries.

 Minor dog bites can often be treated with band aids, tetanus shots, and antibiotic ointments, but about one in five bites requires a trip to the hospital. Dog bite-related hospitalizations happen most often because of injuries such as skin and subcutaneous (under the skin) tissue infections; open wounds of extremities; open wounds of head, neck, and trunk; and fractures of upper limbs. (NIH).

Dog Bites in Maryland

 It seems hard to believe, but dog bites were the 13th most common injury leading to Emergency Room visits, exceeding those occurring on motorcycles (14th), to pedestrians (15th), and from firearm gunshot injuries (16th).

Maryland doesn’t escape these dire statistics. In fact, Maryland is in the top half of the U.S. in terms of year-round dog bite frequency. The most common sufferers of dog attacks are delivery drivers, older adults, and young children ages five to nine.

In Maryland, owners of dogs who have injured or killed someone are liable for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, when the dog is running at large. (This is the “strict liability” statute: Code of Maryland section 3-1901) The dog’s owner is responsible for the dog’s behavior, even if the owner did not know that the dog was dangerous or likely to be dangerous, and even if the owner wasn’t present at the time.

However, the owner could claim three defenses:

  1. The injured person was trespassing:
    Maryland Code, Criminal Law § 6-402 prohibits trespassing. It is not trespassing if the person bitten is unofficially invited on the premises, for example in the case of a delivery person or Girl Scout selling cookies. Unless there is a fence and an explicit warning about the dangerous dog, the person approaching the front door has a reasonable expectation of safety and the dog owner has a responsibility to protect all visitors on the premises.
  2. The person injured was breaking the law or attempting to break the law by committing a crime.
    If someone breaks into a house and is bitten by a dog, the dog owner will not be held liable.
  3. The person provoked, teased, abused, or tormented the dog.
    Maryland has a harsh 1% law that states that if a person has even 1% contributory negligence, they will not receive damages or compensation. This defense will not apply to children under the age of five, as they are not judged capable of knowing the difference between playing and provoking.

Statute of Limitations:

In Maryland, you have three years from the date of the injury to file your claim or it will be barred. Don’t wait until you run into difficulties with an insurance company to ask for expert advice. The clock starts ticking on day one.

Unfortunately, the complicated legal process that follows a dog attack often makes things even worse. Maryland’s dog bite law is known for being complex and difficult to understand. Many people think that they know the law, but they are actually unaware of its intricacies and limitations.

As a victim, you may believe that just because you did nothing wrong, you will easily recover damages from the dog owner’s insurance company. Unfortunately, that is not the case. You will need help from an expert Maryland dog bite attorney to protect your rights and get the compensation you deserve.

Have a Legal Question About Dog Bites? We Have Answers.

The attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law are experts at answering all your questions and guiding you through the challenging process of Maryland dog bite law. We can help you find out if you can hold a dog’s owner or a landlord responsible for your injuries and file suit for damages. Contact us or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our dog bite attorneys today.