If you or a loved one have been the victim of a dog bite, you are probably wondering who will pay for the damage, and whether you can hold the dog’s owner responsible for the damages you have suffered. The question of dog bite liability can be difficult to answer.
While Maryland does grant you certain protections, dog bite law has changed in recent years and is not always easy to understand. Dog bite victims may be able to receive compensation under two separate legal theories: negligence and strict liability.
We understand that terms like “strict liability” and “negligence” can be especially confusing, so please read further to fully understand the implications of Maryland dog bite law.
The Evolution of Maryland Dog Bite Liability
Maryland dog bite law dates back to 1884, when the Court of Appeals ruled that an animal’s owner cannot be blamed for an attack unless they knew that the animal had “disposition to commit such injury.” However, it was often unclear how much the court should require people to anticipate their animals’ actions.
Historically, Maryland courts have abided by what has been referred to as the “one-bite rule.” This standard requires the dog bite victim to prove that the owner knew, or should have known, that their dog was dangerous and did not take adequate precautions. If the victim could show the owner’s negligence—and prove that their negligence caused the bite—then the owner would be held liable.
A new law emerged in 2014 that is marginally kinder to dog bite victims under certain circumstances. For example, this law holds an owner liable if their dog was running at large. Unfortunately, dog bite law in Maryland differs from other states because it does not always hold dog owners strictly liable for injuries inflicted on innocent victims. Many times, an innocent victim of a dog bite will not be compensated for their loss. Each case depends on the specific details of the incident as well as the history of the dog and its owner.
What Is Negligence?
In order to establish that the dog’s owner was negligent, the victim must provide evidence for a number of things. First, they must establish that the dog’s owner had a responsibility to protect them from injury. They must also show that the owner failed to fulfill that duty, and that the victim suffered actual injury or loss as a result.
In Maryland, an owner can be liable for injuries inflicted by their dog even if they did not know that the dog was vicious. If an owner is unaware of their dog’s dangerous tendencies yet fails to control them appropriately, this could still qualify as negligence. In a sense, all dogs are considered to be potentially dangerous. If the owner fails to exercise appropriate caution and prevent harm to others, they are liable for their dog’s aggressive behavior.
Maryland dog bite law also includes the notion of “negligence per se.” This means that violation of another law or local ordinance qualifies as negligence. For example, if an owner let their dog run free at a public park that required animals to be on a leash, they would most likely be liable for any damage caused by the dog.
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What Is Strict Liability?
If the plaintiff chooses to present under strict dog bite liability, then they do not need to prove that the owner was negligent. Rather, they must show that the owner exposed other people to a dog that they knew was dangerous. Essentially, the Court’s rulings established that the victim must prove that the owner did know—or should have known—that their dog had the tendency to be violent.
Behaviors or circumstances that would reasonably suggest that the dog is vicious can be used as proof of dog bite liability. In other words, an owner assumes strict liability as soon as their dog’s behavior puts them on guard or causes them to believe that the dog could cause someone harm. If attacking a person seemed to be a possibility, then strict liability can apply. A prior bite would alert the owner that their dog is violent and expose that owner to strict liability for a subsequent bite.
This dog bite liability extends beyond the dog’s owners. Anyone who knowingly “harbors” a dangerous dog by providing it with shelter or care can be liable for an attack, even if they do not own the dog. And strict liability can be established even if the dog has never actually bitten a person before. In fact, it is entirely possible to prove that a dog is dangerous or vicious by using circumstantial evidence, such as the dog’s previous behavior. Many factors besides a history of aggression can come into play.
To sum all this information up: in order to hold a dog’s owner liable for injuries under strict liability, you must be able to prove that they should have known—under reasonable circumstances—that their dog was dangerous.
If all of this seems complicated, don’t worry! The attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law are here to answer all of your questions and guide you through this challenging process. Contact us or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our dog bite attorneys today.