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Understanding Maryland “Dog Bite Laws”

Understanding Maryland “Dog Bite Laws”

Unfortunately, this is a scenario we’re met with far too often: a potential client walks in wanting to speak to an attorney because he/she was recently attacked or bitten by a neighbor’s dog and wants to pursue legal action. Most people think they know the law, or at least think it’s as straight forward as “I was the victim of an unprovoked attack, so I have a right to some compensation.” But, dog bite laws in Maryland are actually a little more complex than that.

Prior to 2014, Maryland utilized the “one-bite rule”, meaning that an owner of a domesticated animal could only be held liable in the event of an attack if it was known before the attack that the animal had the inclination to do something harmful. In other words, if the animal in question never bit or attacked anyone in the past, the animal’s owner had no reason to believe the animal would ever bite or attack someone. So, every dog gets one bite.

However, in April of 2014, Maryland imposed limited statutory strict liability on all domestic dog owners. The law states that “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.” Essentially, this means that the one-bite rule no longer flies in Maryland. Now, the injured person no longer has to try and prove that the dog had vicious tendencies before it attacked; rather, the owner has to try and prove that the dog did not have vicious tendencies before it attacked. This new law applies to all dogs, regardless of breed, and more specifically applies to the dog’s owner.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew…

So, that all actually seems pretty straight forward, right? You, the injured, were on your neighbor’s property. Cujo, a cantankerous bark box who has a history of snapping at anything that moves, bit you. The law says that because of Cujo’s past history of violent behavior, your neighbor has to pay you. Case closed.

Not so fast.

The law goes on to clarify that the owner of the dog is liable for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by their dog, unless (ah ha!) that injury, death or loss was caused to a person who was acting unsavory. So, if you were trespassing on your neighbor’s lawn (trying to “borrow” his leaf blower again, huh?) or tormenting poor Cujo prior to the attack, then your neighbor may not be liable, and you may not have much of a case.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds…

What about if you live in an apartment complex? Can your landlord be held responsible for your neighbor’s dog attacking you? That depends on the facts of the case, really. What it boils down to is this: if the landlord could have done something about a potentially dangerous animal and failed to do so and something happens, then they could not only be found liable, but negligent, too.  Anyone who “harbors” a potentially dangerous domestic animal, regardless of whether or not they own the animal, can be held liable for an attack. The landlord must know of the animal’s violent behavior and do something to control the animal’s presence in the complex that he/she manages.

Negligence and Negligence per se

Generally speaking, negligence means doing something unreasonable or not taking proper precautions. Thinking in terms of dog bite attacks: it would be negligent to take a strange dog to a park full of families and small children. If that dog were to bite a child that came up to it, that child (or his/her parents, on the child’s behalf) could take legal action against you under the doctrine of negligence. Negligence per se simply means that you could be found to be negligent because you violated some part of a law or statute.

Once bitten, twice shy

In the moments following a dog bite attack, it’s important that you remain calm. Seek medical attention for your wound, write down any information regarding the attack, inform Animal Control and get insurance information from the dog’s owner. Then, give us a call and see if there’s anything we can do to help. Dog bite laws in Maryland are tricky, but they don’t have to be a headache you need to deal with, on top of everything else. If you or someone you know was recently the victim of a dog bite attack, give us a call at (410) 535-6100 or send us an email at info@ferrantedill.com.