Each year in Maryland, thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms for dog bites, and homeowners’ insurance policies pay out millions of dollars in compensation. In 2014, Maryland overhauled its dog bite statute to make it easier for a dog bite victim to win a lawsuit. Maryland’s dog bite law also covers injuries caused by dog behavior other than biting.
When the Dog is at Large
If a dog attack occurs while the dog is at large (not under restraint and outside its owner’s property), the victim can win a dog bite lawsuit against the owner without even showing that the owner was negligent or that the owner had reason to believe the dog was dangerous. The victim can still lose the lawsuit if at the time of the attack he was trespassing or committing a crime, provoking the dog, or attempting to commit any of these acts.
When the Dog is at Home
If a dog attack occurs when the dog is on its owner’s property, the victim can win a lawsuit against the dog owner unless the owner can prove that the dog had never exhibited any dangerous tendencies before (and therefore the owner had no reason to know that the dog was dangerous). It is significant that it is the dog owner who must prove that the dog had never acted dangerously before, not the victim’s responsibility to prove that the dog had acted dangerously.
Common Law Causes of Action
In Maryland, a dog bite victim can sue under common law principles of negligence and negligence per se. These causes of action can be used against both dog owners and third parties such as landlords, and they can apply even to an attack by a stray dog.
Under a negligence theory, the victim must prove that the defendant acted without due care with respect to the dog – by failing to leash it, for example, or by allowing a stray dog into a playground – and that the defendant’s carelessness caused the attack to occur.
Under a negligence per se theory, the victim must prove that the defendant violated an animal control law with respect to the dog and that this violation caused the attack. In other words, a court will not entertain an argument that the defendant’s act was not negligent even though it was illegal.
Maryland applies the rather draconian principle of contributory negligence to dog bite claims — you will lose the case if the dog owner can show that you were even slightly at fault for the dog bite. You can expect the defendant to seize on this if your case goes to court.
Liability of Non-Owners
If the defendant is someone other than the owner of the dog (a trainer or kennel owner, for example), the dog bite victim must prove that the dog had exhibited dangerous propensities in the past and that the defendant knew of them. Note the contrast with a lawsuit against an owner where the dog attack occurred on the owner’s property – it is the victim who must prove that the dog was known to be dangerous, rather than the non-owner having to prove the opposite.
Get help from Maryland dog bite attorney for you or your loved one.