When an Owner isn't Liable for a Dog Bite | Zirkin & Schmerling Law

When an Owner Isn’t Liable for a Dog Bite

when are dog owners not liable

Maryland has strict laws for dog owners, but that doesn’t mean an owner is automatically responsible for a dog bite. There are many situations where a dogowner isn’t liable or someone else also shares partial responsibility.

Let’s look at what the law says about a variety of dog bite situations. If you’re a dog owner or a victim of a dog bite, you might be surprised at how the state of Maryland places the blame.

Maryland Laws Regarding Dog Bites and Injuries

The most important parts of our state code regarding dog bites are Code of Maryland Section 3-1901 and Section 10-619. These are the portions of the law that address personal injuries from dogs and public health concerns about dogs.

Generally speaking, a dog’s owner is responsible for their dog’s behavior around the public and the guests on their property. When a dog bites someone, the authorities will attempt to locate the dog’s owner and determine what happened. From there, the dog’s owner may face an investigation, a citation, a criminal charge, an insurance claim, or a personal injury lawsuit.

Liability depends upon the facts of the case. Was the injured victiman invited guest? A trespasser? A veterinarian? A fugitive running from the law? Was the dog running loose? Was it previously designated a “dangerous dog” by the authorities?

Maryland’s dog bite laws include language like “with provocation” and “provoking the dog” because provocation is relevant. If someone provokes a dog into attacking, the owner can use this as evidence that the bite was the person’s own fault instead of the owner’s.

Maryland also uses the contributory negligence rule for dog bite lawsuits. This means that when a court finds someone is partially responsible for causing the dog to bite, the dog’s ownercan be off the hook for the injuries..

Situations Where the Owner May or May Not Be Responsible

As personal injury lawyers who have been part of many dog bite insurance claims and lawsuits, the team at Zirkin & Schmerling Law has almost seen it all. While we can’t guarantee a particular outcome in your case, we can share some common situations we’ve come across.

Here are some examples of instances where a dog owner might or might not be able to show that they’re not liable for a dog bite.


If the bitten person was a trespasser on the dog owner’s property, this may be a valid defense against liability. So, if a neighbor walks through your property uninvited and your dog bites them, you probably won’t be held responsible for their medical bills. Or if your dog bites a burglar who’s crawling through the window, it’s very unlikely that the burglar will successfully sue you for damages in Maryland.  The question in these cases often will depend on the definition of a trespasser.  Could a friend be a trespasser? What about a door-to-door salesman?  These cases can be very tricky.


Let’s say your dog bit a family friend while they were visiting your home. This person was roughhousing with your dog on the floor, teasing and poking the dog in the face. Although this person was your guest and normally could claim damages for a dog bite, in this case they provoked the dog to attack. If a court finds that your guest was even 1% responsible for their own injury, you aren’t responsible for their damages.  This will come down to the exact facts of the situation.  How old was your guest?  Are they an adult or a baby?  What did they do exactly to provoke the dog?  Are there witnesses to what occurred?  All of these factors could change the outcome of the case.

Can a groomer sue you if your dog bites them?

Yes, a groomer can sue you if your dog bites them. However, the likelihood of the groomer winning the lawsuit depends on several factors. Professionals such as veterinarians, vet assistants, dog groomers, and dog walkers typically understand the inherent risks of working with animals, which might include being bitten. Because of this assumed risk, it may be challenging for them to successfully sue the dog owner.

That said, there are exceptions. If the dog has been officially recognized as dangerous by the authorities, and the owner did not disclose this information to the groomer, the owner could be held liable for any injuries caused by the dog. The specifics of the incident, including the dog’s history and whether the owner took appropriate precautions before bringing the dog into the business, will also play a critical role in determining liability.

As a side note often these professionals can file for workers’ compensation. 

Police Dog

Maryland law makes an exception for police dogs who bite people in the course of their work. This means police dogs are exempt from being labeled dangerous dogs and if a police dog bites you while you’re attempting to evade arrest, you’re responsible for your own costs.

Owner Not Present

You should know that as a dog owner, you can be held responsible for a dog bite even if you weren’t present when it happened. So if you’re not home and your dog bites someone invited to your home, like a service technician or a babysitter, you could be held liable. Maryland also holds dog owners responsible for loose and running dogs that are a threat to the public.

Get Good Legal Advice About Dog Bite Liability

As you can see, there are many nuances to Maryland dog bite laws and it’s not always immediately clear whether an owner is liable for a bite. There can be a big difference between someone saying, “It’s your fault!” and establishing actual legal liability.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a dog bite take action by contacting an experienced Maryland dog bite lawyer at Zirkin & Schmerling Law. We have extensive experience with a wide variety of dog bite cases.

Have a Legal Question? We Have Answers.

When you need to learn more about your rights, the attorneys at Zirkin & Schmerling Law can help. Contact us or call us at (410) 753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our experienced dog bite lawyers today.