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 dog attacks another dog 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 my dog bit another 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.
Have you or a loved one suffered an attack by a vicious dog? If so, it is important to know exactly what your legal rights and options are. But the relevant law can be challenging to understand. This extensive Maryland dog bite law FAQ will give you an overview of your most pressing questions and recommendations for every stage of the process. Read on to make sure that your case is strong!
What to do if a dog attacks your dog?
The first few hours after a dog bite is crucial. It is important that you see a doctor and follow their instructions, contact the police, document any wounds, and write down a complete account of my dog attacked another dog will it be put down. It is critical that you determine whether the dog has rabies and that you contact your local Animal Control office. A complete explanation of what you should do in the immediate aftermath of a dog bite is beyond the scope of this Maryland dog bite FAQ. Read our in-depth article on what to do if you get bit by a dog in Maryland to learn more.
Should I call the police?
Yes, you should immediately call the police and your local Animal Control office in order to file a report. They can also help to make sure that the dog that bit you is current on their rabies shots and vaccines.
Should I contact Animal Control?
You should absolutely contact your local Animal Control office. It is crucial that you know the dog’s rabies status and document exactly what happened. Animal Control may be able to provide information about prior incidents that will be helpful to your case. More importantly, they want to know about any vicious animal that might be a danger to the community. Check out our list of shelters and animal control offices in Maryland for more information.
Does it matter if the dog that attacked me was running loose?
Yes. Generally, the owner of the dog is liable for damages caused by a dog who is running loose. It is important that you contact Animal Control and the local police and make sure that they have this information about the circumstances of the dog bite. Current law now holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries caused by a dog who is running loose.
What shots do I need after a dog bite?
Your doctor will be able to determine which shots you need. Dog bite victims usually need antibiotics and tetanus shot to prevent infections. If the dog that bit you is not up to date on its rabies vaccinations, you may need preventive medical treatment as well.
How do I make sure that the dog has been vaccinated?
You should seek medical attention immediately and contact Animal Control. If you know the dog’s owner, find out if it has current rabies shot and write down the rabies tag number. If the owner refuses to give you this information, alert Animal Control, your medical provider, and the local police.
How do I make sure that the dog doesn’t bite anyone else?
Underdog bite law in Maryland, you have no influence on what happens to the dog following the bite. The best thing you can do to protect future victims is to make a claim and contact Animal Control. Filing a lawsuit alerts the dog’s owner that their animal is dangerous and ensures they will be held liable should anything similar happen in the future. Animal Control may declare a dog to be dangerous or put restrictions on the owner, requiring them to use a muzzle or undergo training. There is a separate proceeding for Animal Control to declare a dog to be dangerous.
Should I speak with an insurance company?
Do NOT speak to an insurance company or any representative of any insurance company until you have spoken with an attorney. This is one of the most important recommendations you should take away from this Maryland dog bite law FAQ. If you are contacted, simply take down their name or number and inform them that you will be represented by legal counsel. Your attorney will contact them when it is appropriate to do so.
Will health insurance cover my injuries?
Your health insurance should cover any medical bills. After a case is completed, the insurer may wish to subrogate the claim or be reimbursed for their expenses. This process takes time, and you won’t want to be stuck with unpaid bills while litigation is pending.
Will the dog owner personally have to pay for my medical bills?
According to dog bite negligence and strict liability in Maryland, dog bites are covered by homeowner’s and renter’s insurance unless they are excluded from coverage. The owner may owe the difference if damages exceed the policy limit, but this is quite rare. Just as car accidents are covered by automobile insurance, dog bites are covered by homeowner’s and renter’s insurance.
If you feel like you need some legal help, contact our Dog Bite Law attorney to schedule a free case evaluation today.
FREE CASE EVALUATION
Do all homeowners and renters insurance policies cover dog bites?
Dog bites are generally covered by the dog owner’s or landlord’s policy, but not every homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy covers all dog bites. Some policies exclude coverage from certain breeds, such as pit bulls, but the owner is not obligated to disclose this information to the victim. Your attorneys will eventually uncover this relevant information during litigation.
How long do I have to make a claim and file a lawsuit?
In Maryland, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit is 3 years. For a child who has been the victim of a dog bite, the statute of limitations is 3 years past their 18th birthday or the age of 21. If a suit has to be brought against the state, local, or municipal government (which is rare), official “notice” must be provided within a year of the injury. It is critical that you adhere to the statute of limitations, or else you risk losing the ability to file.
What is the value of my case?
Most people immediately start wondering, “how much is my dog bite case worth in Maryland?” The value of any case is based on a number of factors, such as economic damages like medical bills and non-economic damages like pain, suffering, and the loss of enjoyment. However, this simple Maryland dog bite law FAQ cannot convey the complexity of this process. A judge or jury will ultimately decide the value of your dog bite case through the litigation process.
Is there a limit to the damages I may be awarded for this case?
There are no damage caps in Maryland for economic damages. “Fair, reasonable, and necessarily incurred” economic damages are awarded, including medical bills, future medical needs, and lost wages. However, there is a cap on the award for non-economic damages such as pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment, which adjusts yearly for the cost of living.
Can I recover for future surgeries or other future medical bills?
Yes, future medical bills and surgeries are considered “fair, reasonable, and necessarily incurred” economic damages. There is no cap on economic damages in Maryland.
Can I recover my lost wages from work?
Yes, Maryland law allows you to recover lost wages as economic damage. However, the final judgment on this matter is made by a judge or jury during litigation. As mentioned earlier in this Maryland dog bite FAQ, every case is unique and the decision in one case may not play out exactly the same as another.
Should I bring an attorney with me to a vicious dog hearing?
If the attacking dog is being brought before a local hearing board, you should definitely bring an attorney with you. Statements made at the Animal Control board hearing may help or hurt your lawsuit against the dog owner’s insurance company. The hearing may also supply valuable information for your dog bite claim.
What should I do if my dog was injured by another dog?
If another dog has attacked your dog, you may recover economic damages from the attacking dog owner’s insurance company, including veterinary bills. In Maryland, a pet is legally considered personal property. Other states treat pets differently and permit damages such as suffering and loss of companionship.
Do I have a valid lawsuit for my dog bite case?
If a dog has bitten you, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries. This is accomplished by filing a personal injury claim. In addition to the medical expenses incurred while treating your dog bite, you may also receive compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, future medical bills, future lost wages, and other expenses.
Prior to 2014, Maryland applied the one-bite rule and negligence principles. Incidents involving pit bulls between April 27, 2012, and April 7, 2014, were governed by Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627 (2012), which imposed strict tort liability on pit bull owners and their landlords. Effective on and after April 8, 2014, the state imposes limited statutory strict liability on dog owners as follows:
- Subsection (a) of Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 3–1901 imposes strict liability unless the owner can prove that he neither knew nor should have known that his dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.
- Subsection (c) of Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 3–1901 imposes strict liability for any injury, death or loss to person or property that is caused by a dog which is at large, except if the victim was trespassing, committing a criminal offense against any person, or provoking the dog. An attempt to trespass or commit a crime is equivalent to actually trespassing or committing the crime.
- Subsection (d) Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 3–1901 confirms that the victim also can base his claim on negligence, negligence per se, and other common law or statutory causes of action; similarly, the defendant can base his defense on any other common law or statutory defense or immunity.
In cases against persons other than a dog owner, subsection (b) of Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 3–1901 requires the dog bite victim to prove that the dog previously acted viciously or dangerously, and makes it clear that the proof must be something more than showing that the dog was a pit bull.