We love our dogs. And generally, dogs are sweet companion animals. But we sometimes forget that animals, with jaws that can impose serious damage on people. That's why every state has dog bite laws of some kind, allowing people bitten by dogs to recover for their injuries. Maryland has recently strengthened its dog bite laws.
The Old Laws
Maryland used to follow what is commonly known as the "one bite" rule. The rule "allowed" someone's dog to bite someone else once without incurring civil liability. In other words, if you are bitten, but the owner had no idea that the dog was vicious as it hadn't bitten anyone before, you would have a hard time recovering damages for your injuries.
The difficulty in proving damages, as you can imagine, is proving what the owner should have known about its own dog.
Interestingly, this rule didn't apply to dogs commonly referred to pit bulls. With pit bulls, there was strict liability. The dog bites someone, and that person can sue for damages, regardless of the dog's history.
The New Dog Bite Law
Maryland law has recently changed, allowing those injured by dogs to sue for damages, regardless of whether the dog has hurt someone previously or not. Some highlights of the new law:
● There is strict liability for owners of dogs who bite people unless the owner can prove he or she did not know, and shouldn't have known, that the dog had "vicious or dangerous propensities."
The big change here is that the law now places on the dog's owner the burden to prove that the dog was not dangerous. There is now an automatic presumption that the owner knew the dog was dangerous. The injured victim doesn't have to prove what the owner knew or didn't know. It's not known yet whether saying "Fifi was always such a sweet dog" will be enough for a defendant to meet that burden.
The law also is breed neutral--that is, one breed isn't treated differently than others.
● There is strict liability for injury or loss by a dog at large.
This seems to imply that if a dog is at large (in other words--loose without a leash), the owner is liable for the damages. This includes not just bites, but any "loss," which could be damage to property as well.
The statute does contain an exception for anybody trespassing, committing a crime, or taunting an at-large dog, in which case the owner is not responsible for injuries caused by the animal.
If someone other than the owner of the dog is responsible for a dog bite injury, the old law applies--there must be a previous bite or indication the dog was dangerous. So, for example, if a pet sitter allowed a dog to get loose, or the vet allows a dog in its custody to attack your dog, it would be harder to sue those non-owners for damages.
Dog bites can result in serious injuries. The law now allows a victim an easier way to seek damages from an owner. Although the law may seem unfair to dog owners, when a dog injures someone, it is fairer to make the owner (who knows and cares for the dog more so than anyone else) responsible, than to leave the victim with no ability to recover for injuries.
If you're injured in any way by a dog or other domestic animal in Maryland, you have a right to recover for your injuries. Make sure you have attorneys that understand the laws that protect you. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.