Update: New Dog Bite Law Passed! Dog Owners Liable For “At Large” Dog Bites Regardless Of Breed
In a previous blog post we wrote about a new dog bite law that has been progressing through the Maryland legislature. For years, the Maryland legislature has been attempting to pass legislation to change dog bite law following the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision in Tracey v. Solesky. This time, it appears they have been successful. On April 3, 2014, the Maryland General Assembly gave final approval to the new dog bite law, which will now go to the governor to be signed.
Maryland dog bite law is an excellent example of how the law is always changing. A good personal injury attorney constantly stays abreast of new developments in the law so that they can better advocate for their clients.
How Will Maryland Dog Bite Law Change?
The new law, in effect, overturns the Court of Appeals’ decision in Tracey v. Solesky, retaining only Maryland dog bite law that existed prior to April 1, 2012. Although the law does not single out any specific breed of dog (as pit bulls were singled out in Solesky) the law will affect Maryland dog owners differently depending on whether or not their dog was on a leash at the time of the accident.
On a Leash – If a dog was leashed or otherwise confined, evidence that the dog caused personal injury or death will create a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous or violent. The owner has the opportunity to appear in court and present evidence that they did not know the dog was dangerous or violent. Whether they in fact knew or not is an issue that will be decided by a Maryland jury. If the jury determines that they knew the dog was dangerous or violent, the owner will be liable for the injury or death.
Not on a Leash – The new law will impose strict liability on dog owners for damages for personal injury or death caused by a dog of any breed while “running at large” (not on a leash). Exceptions to this rule are if the person bitten by the dog was committing a crime, trespassing, or provoking the dog.
What Does The New Law Mean for Victims of Dog Bites?
This change in Maryland law is generally favorable to those who are injured or killed by dog bites. Before the new law, Maryland law held that pit bulls were an inherently dangerous breed. Because Maryland dog bite law no longer focuses on a specific breed, the protections for victims of dogs other than pit bulls have increased. Here are several of the major takeaways:
- Victims of attacks by pit bulls who are leashed will receive slightly less protection than they would have prior to the new law. Although there is a presumption that the dog is dangerous, owners of pit bulls in these circumstances will have the opportunity to present evidence to a jury that they did not know their dog was dangerous.
- For victims of attacks by unleashed pit bulls, there is no significant change. The new law continues to impose the strict liability provisions that previously existed.
- Victims of dog attacks by any other breed where the dog is not on a leash will receive increased protection under Maryland law. There is strict liability for all bites where the dog is “running at large.”
- Victims of dog attacks by any other breed where the dog is leashed or confined indoors will receive increased protection under the new law. If there is evidence that the dog caused a personal injury, there will be a presumption that the dog was dangerous.