Fatal Dog Attack Raises Questions About Victims’ Right To Compensation

Last week, the Houston Chronicle reported that a young boy died after being mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull. According to the story, the four-year-old climbed the chain link fence separating his own from a neighbor’s yard where the dog, although chained up, was able to attack him. The child was taken to a local hospital where he tragically died later that day.

Understanding Dog Bites in Maryland
Although many states have adopted “strict liability” statutes with regard to dog bites, Maryland is not one of them. Except in certain circumstances as discussed below, our state still adheres to what is commonly referred to as the “one bite rule.” The one bite rule is a negligence doctrine established in the case of Twigg v. Ryland, 62 Md. 380 (1884) which holds that the owner or keeper of a dog may be held liable for injuries caused by the animal if he has actual or constructive knowledge of its ferocious or dangerous propensities.

A recent decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky, modified the one bite rule to specifically preclude pit bulls. According to the Court, “[i]t is not necessary that [a pit bull’s owner] have actual knowledge that the specific pit bull involved is dangerous***[b]ecause of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

A majority of other states have left behind the one bite rule in favor of strict liability statutes. Strict liability statutes, in the context of dog bite cases, impose liability on the owner or keeper of the dog even when the owner or keeper is not found to be at fault. This means that the owner of a dog that bites another person is automatically liable for any resulting injury regardless of the animal’s prior demeanor or propensity towards viciousness.

Legal Defenses
Both one bite and strict liability theories are subject to certain defenses which may absolve the dog owner of liability. One such defense is the concept of “trespass,” which generally applies when the victim of the bite did not have any right to be on the property where the attack took place. This defense was expressly recognized by Maryland Court of Appeals in the case Bramble v. Thompson, 264 Md. 518 (1972).

Another defense that can be asserted in dog bite cases is based on the doctrine of “contributory negligence.” As has been previously discussed by this blog, Maryland is one of only five states that still operates under a theory of contributory negligence. The doctrine of contributory negligence states that, if a dog bites victim’s failure to exercise due care contributes at all to the cause of the attack, he or she is completely barred from recovery. For example, an owner would not be liable to a dog bite victim if the victim provoked the dog into attacking by harassing it.

Legal Help
The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing the victims of dog attacks. If you or someone you know has been injured in a dog attack, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.