Maryland Dog Bite Laws

Before you file a lawsuit over a dog bite in Maryland, it's important to familiarize yourself with the state laws that could affect your case. (Dog owners will be interested in understanding these laws too, if they're facing a lawsuit over an incident in which their dog injured someone.) Read on for a summary of Maryland dog bite law.

Maryland's Dog Bite Law

Code of Maryland section 3-1901 states that "the owner of a dog is liable for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, when the dog is running at large."

However, an owner is not liable if the injured person was:

  • trespassing or attempting to trespass on the owner's property
  • committing or attempting to commit another crime (besides trespassing) on the owner's property
  • committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any other person, or
  • provoking, abusing, teasing, or tormenting the dog.

Maryland's law covers not only injuries inflicted by a dog bite, but also injuries inflicted by other types of dog behavior. For example, suppose that a pedestrian is walking in a park when a dog runs up and jumps on the pedestrian, knocking her down and breaking her arm. The dog's owner can be held liable for damages related to that injury under section 3-1901, even though it was not caused by a bite.

Strict Liability vs the "One Bite" Rule in Maryland

Code of Maryland section 3-1901 is a "strict liability" rule, meaning the dog's owner is responsible for damages caused by the dog's behavior, even if the owner did not know the dog would act aggressively and even if the owner took reasonable care to prevent the dog from causing injuries.

States that do not follow the strict liability rule often use a "one bite" rule instead. The "one bite" rule states that, if the dog's owner used reasonable care, the owner usually will not be held liable unless he or she knew that the dog might act aggressively -- for instance, because the dog has bitten or injured someone in the past.

Maryland law includes a rebuttable presumption that, if the dog has injured or killed someone in the past, the owner "knew or should have known" the dog was dangerous. In other words, if there is evidence that the dog has harmed someone before, the court will presume that the owner knew the dog was likely to harm someone again, unless the owner can demonstrate otherwise.

A person injured by a dog in Maryland may bring a claim either under the state's strict liability statute or under the state's rules for negligence claims. In a negligence claim, the injured person must show that the owner had a duty to use reasonable care but failed to do so -- failed to properly control or restrain the dog under the circumstances, in other words -- and this failure led to the claimant's injury.

Whether or not the owner knew the dog "had vicious or dangerous propensities" may affect not only the owner's liability in a civil claim for injuries, but also the owner's culpability in a criminal case.

(See also: How long do I have to file a dog bite claim in Maryland?)

Criminal Charges for Dog Bite Claims in Maryland

The owner of a dog that injures or kills someone may face criminal charges, in addition to a civil lawsuit, if the dog is considered a "dangerous dog" under Maryland law. According to Code of Maryland section 10-619, a "dangerous dog" is a dog that:

  • "without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person," or
  • was classified a "potentially dangerous dog," then bit a person, killed or injured a domestic animal while off its owner's property, or attacked without provocation.

Owners of dangerous dogs are required to follow a number of rules. For instance, 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.

In addition, a dog owner may face criminal charges related to the attack itself, if a dangerous dog causes severe injury or death. A criminal charge differs from a civil lawsuit in two key ways. First, criminal charges are filed by the state or local prosecutor and must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt", while the civil lawsuit is filed by the individual who was injured, and the dog owner's liability must be established "by a preponderance of the evidence" (in other words, that it is more likely than not the owner is liable). Second, in a criminal case, a conviction may carry penalties like imprisonment or fines. In a civil lawsuit, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.

Defenses to a Dog Bite Claim in Maryland

When a dog's owner is sued after the dog causes injury, the owner may a number of legal defenses to the claim.

Maryland's dog bite statute contains three of the most common defenses raised in dog bite cases: that the injured person was trespassing, that the injured person was trying to commit a crime, or that the injured person provoked the dog.

A dog's owner may also be able to raise the defense of contributory negligence. In a contributory negligence defense, the owner argues that the injured person was partly or wholly responsible for their own injuries. In Maryland, this defense is a complete bar to recovery. In other words, if the dog's owner can show the injured person shared any responsibility at all for the injury, the injured person cannot recover damages. (More: What if I am partly at fault for my dog bite injuries in Maryland?)

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