If you are bitten by someone’s dog, you may think that you have a simple case against the dog owners. Their dog injured you; therefore, they should make it right. Right? Not always. Maryland’s dog bite laws are less than straightforward. There are a few things you need to know before you take action.
Dog bites are common in the US. In fact, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, more than 800,000 of them needing medical attention.
A dog owner in Maryland can be found liable for injuries caused by their dog either on grounds of strict liability or on grounds of negligence.
Law Changed to Rebuttable Presumption: In 2019, the General Assembly changed a section of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code §3-1901 law to read:
In an action against an owner of a dog for damages for personal injury or death caused by the dog, evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.
This means that if you file suit, the court will begin with the assumption that the owner knew that the dog was likely to be aggressive. However, the owner has a chance to rebut (or counter) that. For example, the dog owner could bring in fact witnesses to testify that the dog never bit, growled, or barked before the dog bite incident in question. In addition, the legislature included certain defenses for dog owners. If the dog owner can show that the alleged victim was trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking the dog in some manner then it’s possible that the dog owner could win in court.
The dog owner has the responsibility to protect you from harm. Your attorney can prove negligence if he or she can prove that the dog owner showed a lack of reasonable care. This is ultimately made much easier if the owner violated a statute or ordinance, and the dog was at large or without a leash. (This is called negligence per se).
One thing that complicates your ability to succeed in a personal injury claim is Maryland’s contributory negligence rule. This harsh law states that if you are responsible in even the smallest possible way (even only 1%) for the dog bite, that you won’t receive any compensation.
Dog owners could claim that:
- You were 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.
- You were 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.
- You provoked, teased, abused, or tormented the dog.
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. A general rule when you meet any dog is to avoid direct contact and to ask the owner before attempting to approach or pet the dog.
If you are a dog groomer, veterinarian, dog walker or something similar, you generally have an assumption of risk and will not be able to hold the dog owner liable if you are injured. The exception to this is if the dog owner knew that his or her dog was dangerous or aggressive and neglected to warn you.
If you are attacked by a dog in Maryland:
- Get medical care such as a tetanus shot and antibiotics to prevent infection.
- Document your injuries and the scene with photographs, videos and written notes.
- Get contact information from anyone who witnessed the incident.
- Contact your local police department and animal control agency.
- Contact a Maryland dog bite attorney.
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.
The attorneys at Zirkin & Schmerling have years of successful experience with Maryland dog bite cases and are leaders in dog bite litigation. The attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law are experts at answering all your questions and guiding you through the challenging process of Maryland’s 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.