Guide to Maryland Dog-Bite Laws

Dog owners in Maryland are legally responsible for injuries caused by their pets.

By , J.D. · University of Michigan Law School
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney (UC Law San Francisco)

People love their pets, especially dogs. According to the 2023-2024 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) over 65.1 million U.S. households include at least one dog. Dog ownership comes with great joy and great responsibility. Dog owners are responsible for taking care of their pets and they are legally responsible for preventing their pets from injuring other people or causing property damage. And yet about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

If you own a dog—or if you've been injured by a dog—in Maryland, here's what you need to know:

  • Maryland has a strict liability law that makes dog owners financially responsible for most injuries and property damage caused by their dogs.
  • If your dog kills or injures someone in Maryland, the law presumes that you knew, or should have known, the dog was dangerous. This presumption makes it easier for a person injured by your dog to sue you.
  • Owners of dogs classified as dangerous in Maryland may be criminally prosecuted if they fail to secure their dogs.
  • Dog owners aren't liable when their dogs injure someone who was trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking the dog.

Maryland's Strict Liability Dog Injury Law

In Maryland, dog owners are automatically responsible for injuries and property damage caused by their dogs when:

  • the attacking dogs were at large, or
  • the owners can't rebut the presumption that they knew or should have known that their dogs had vicious or dangerous propensities.

Maryland's dog injury law covers all injuries inflicted by dogs, not just dog bites. For example, if you broke your tailbone when you were knocked down by an unleashed dog in a park, you could sue the owner for your injuries and other losses (called "damages").

Dog owners aren't liable for injuries caused by their dogs when the injured person was:

  • trespassing or attempting to trespass on the owner's property
  • committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person or on the property of the owner, or
  • teasing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog.

(Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-1901 (2022).)

Negligent Dog Owners' Liability in Maryland

A person injured by a dog in Maryland may bring a claim under the state's strict liability law or file a negligence claim. In order to win a dog injury lawsuit based on negligence, the injured person typically has to show that:

  • the dog owner had a duty to take reasonable care to control the dog
  • the dog owner violated that duty, and
  • the violation caused the injured person harm.

For example, let's say that you were invited as a guest to a dog owner's home. The dog owner has a young German Shepard. The dog owner knows that the German Shepard is rambuncious and not fully trained. Nevertheless, the dog owner lets the large dog run loose in the house. The dog lunges at you in the kitchen and takes a bite out of your leg. Your pants are torn, your skin is cut and bruised, and you develop a fear of dogs that causes you a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights.

You can file a claim with the dog owner's liability insurance or file a civil lawsuit in court based on the dog owner's negligence. The dog owner had a duty to control the dog and protect invited guests from attacks. The dog owner's failure to control the dog caused you harm when the dog bit you.

Learn more about dog owners' liability for bites and other injuries.

Criminal Liability for Dangerous Dogs in Maryland

Maryland has a dangerous dog law. A dangerous dog is defined as a dog that:

  • kills or inflicts severe injury on a person without provocation, or
  • was classified as a potentially dangerous dog and then bites a person, attacks a domestic animal, or attacks without provocation.

Owners of dangerous dogs are required to follow a number of rules. For example, they must keep the dog on their own property, and they must muzzle and restrain the dog when the dog travels off the property. An owner who violates these rules may be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $2,500.

(Md. Code, Crim Law § 10-619 (2022).)

Maryland Dog Owner Defenses

Maryland's dog-bite statute (Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-1901) lays out three of the most common defenses raised in dog-bite cases:

  • the injured person was trespassing
  • the injured person was committing a crime, or
  • the injured person provoked the dog.

Dog owners in Maryland may also raise the defense of contributory negligence. If an owner can show that the injured person shares blame for the injury, the injured person can't recover damages. For example, if an owner can show that the injured person startled the dog and bears even a slight amount of blame for the incident, the injured person can't recover any compensation. Maryland is one of only a handful of states that follows this tough rule. Most states follow comparative negligence rules, which allow for reduced financial recovery when an injured person shares blame for an injury.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been hurt by a dog, or someone has accused your dog of causing harm, talk to a lawyer. Dog-bite lawsuits are emotionally draining and financially costly. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that there were around 18,000 dog-related injury claims in 2021 with a total value of $881.9 million.

A lawyer can walk you through your legal options, answer your questions, and advocate for you throughout the insurance claim process and in court. Learn more about getting help from a personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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