The state of Maine has enacted comprehensive dog bite legislation that combines elements of strict liability and negligence law. It also sets out special rules for dogs that have been classified by the state as “dangerous”, and it clarifies the circumstances under which it is legal to kill a dog.
Maine’s Hybrid Dog Bite Statute
Some states hold dog owners strictly liable (liable without fault) for injuries caused by their dogs, while other states require a dog bite victim to prove that the dog owner was negligent in some way before liability can be established. The Maine dog bite statute takes the middle road. Dog bite victims must prove negligence if the attack occurred on the owner’s property, but dog owners are strictly liable for attacks that occur off the owner’s property. This strict liability applies even if the dog was off its owner’s property through no fault of either the defendant or the victim. Under Maine law, a keeper of a dog is also treated as its owner.
In Maine, a dog can be declared dangerous by animal control authorities when the dog bites someone who is not trespassing or, when off its owner’s property, when it bites or threatens to bite someone without provocation. “Someone” can include a domestic animal such as another dog. An attack victim or a bystander may seek to have the dog declared dangerous by filing a complaint with local law enforcement or animal control authorities. The dog’s owner is entitled to a hearing where he can contest the classification of the dog as “dangerous”.
Once a dog is declared dangerous, the owner can be fined $250 to $1,000. The court can require the dog to be fenced in or muzzled, or even order that the dog be “put to sleep”. If a dog owner fails to comply with a court-ordered restriction (by failing to muzzle his dog, for example), and the dog later attacks and injures someone, a court can order the dog owner to pay the victim three times the amount of his actual damages.
Idiosyncrasies in Maine Dog Bite Law
- Maine grants dog bite victims an unusually long six-year period after the date of the attack to file a personal injury lawsuit.
- Maine dog bite law covers injuries caused by behavior other than biting – jumping onto someone or scaring them out into the street, for example.
- Maine treats attacks on domestic animals the same as attacks on humans for the purpose of civil liability.
- A person becomes the “owner” of a stray dog under Maine law by feeding it for 10 consecutive days.
- Even if the attack was partly the victim’s fault, a victim’s damages cannot be reduced unless the victim’s fault was greater than the owner’s fault.
- It is legal to kill a dog during an unprovoked assault if necessary for self-defense, defense of others or defense of a domesticated animal
A dog owner who “sics” his dog on you without justification commits a crime against you. You can also file a civil lawsuit against the dog owner over the attack, and it is possible to win a civil lawsuit even if the dog owner is acquitted in criminal court.
For more help with a dog bite claim in Maine, talk to a dog bite lawyer.