Can I Sue for Dog Bite Injuries in Maryland?
Eight Questions to Ask
Even if you do not have a dog, it is highly likely that you know someone who does. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), more than 48.2 million US households are home to a dog – representing about 38.4% of all families. This means that you will probably encounter canines when visiting friends and family, or when out around Baltimore’s parks, attractions, and outdoor spaces that allow them. For the most part, you would probably never worry about being bitten or attacked under these circumstances and knowing the owner is taking proper precautions to control the dog.
However, there are some canines that are dangerous and prone to attacks. Statistics reveal that dogs bite approximately 4 million people every year, sending 330,000 victims to the emergency room for treatment. Due to the nature of their injuries, many will require reconstructive surgery or other cosmetic procedures. Unfortunately, children are often bitten because of their curiosity and lower stature; they are at the dog’s eye level. Regardless of age, victims of dog bites may suffer horrific emotional distress and a life-long fear of dogs is common.
If you or a loved one suffered a dog bite, you may be wondering about your legal options. In general, Maryland law does allow victims to seek compensation from the animal’s owner; still, the specific liability concepts can make it difficult to understand your rights. It is wise to discuss your circumstances with a Baltimore dog bite attorney, but you can ask yourself a few questions to get a basic grasp of your legal remedies.
Did the dog exhibit aggressive tendencies? Maryland follows the “one bite” rule for purposes of some animal attacks, which encompasses the traditional concepts of negligence. You may have a solid claim if you can prove two elements.
- The dog had demonstrated dangerous propensities toward someone in the past; and,
- The owner of the dog knew or should have known about the animal’s vicious characteristics.
The term one bite rule comes from the fact that, in many of these cases, evidence of a previous bite is the means of proving element #1.
Was the dog at large? There is also a statute covering dog bites in Maryland, and it establishes strict liability on an owner when a dog is considered “at large” – i.e., roaming without any securement or controls in place. By strict liability, the law means that you do not need to prove that the owner was careless in failing to maintain the animal. However, there may be a defense for an owner who can prove he or she did not know the animal was vicious when it was at large.
In addition, the statute also states that other common law grounds for dog bite claims remain in effect, including negligence and negligence per se.
Did the owner violate state laws that apply to dogs? This question stems from a claim based upon negligence per se, since owners may be liable for injuries related to a legal violation. For instance, many Maryland municipalities have leash regulations or rules requiring fencing around private yards. If the owner breaks any of these laws and the dog bites someone, a victim can seek monetary damages.
Was the owner negligent in some other way in handling the dog? There are other ways that an owner can breach the duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining a dog. Examples include:
- Allowing small children to pet a dog that is growling;
- Not securing the animal with a leash or harness appropriate for its size; or,
- Letting dogs play off-leash at a park.
Were you negligent or engaging in misconduct when you were attacked? Despite being able to prove the requirements under strict liability or negligence concepts, you could lose your rights based upon your own conduct. Like many other US states, Maryland bars you from recovering compensation if you were trespassing on property when attacked. Your claim may also be denied if you were teasing, provoking, or tormenting the dog – or if you allowed your child to do so.
Is the dog’s owner covered by insurance? In many cases, you will initiate the legal process by filing an insurance claim, since these incidents are usually covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. For victims who have concerns about pursuing legal action against someone they know, this factor could make your relationship less awkward because any payment would come from the insurer.
In some cases, you may be able to settle your claim out-of-court with the insurer. When the company refuses to agree to a fair amount, you may need to file a civil court case.
How much time has passed since you were bitten? As with other personal injury cases, there is a statute of limitations that applies to dog bites under Maryland law. You have three years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit in court, and the clock does not stop while you are engaged in settlement negotiations.
What are your losses? To prevail in a dog bite claim, you must have suffered some damage for which you should be entitled to recover compensation. If you received treatment, you will typically qualify to obtain amounts for your medical bills. Plus, you might be eligible for:
- Lost wages, if you were unable to work because of your dog bite injuries;
- Pain and suffering;
- Scarring and disfigurement;
- Emotional distress; and,
- Many other losses.
Contact a Maryland Dog Bite Lawyer to Discuss Your Options
As you can see, there are many questions to ask when attempting to understand your legal rights under Maryland dog bite laws. Ultimately, every case is different, so it is important to consult with an experienced attorney in pursuing your remedies. Our team can explain the relevant laws and guide you through the process, so please contact one of our offices to set up a free consultation. We can advise you on dog bite claims after reviewing your unique situation.