The average Maryland pet owner may not spend a great deal of time pondering how their dog might get them into legal trouble. Then again, the average bystander generally has a sound expectation that they won’t be attacked by that dog. Sometimes, however, the unexpected happens and these is a dog attack. Sometimes man’s best friend becomes its very worst enemy, either on account of an injury suffered there because or due to the liability associated therewith. Indeed, incidents involving aggressive dogs and the bites incurred by them may be more common than you think.
As a 2013 report by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, “According to a December 2010 report from AHRQ, the number of Americans hospitalized because of dog bites increased by nearly 100% in the 15-year period between 1993 and 2008. This increase was greater than population growth during that same period, and pet ownership only increased slightly.”
Accordingly, in 2014, Maryland passed a law that held dog owners to a standard of strict liability in the event they ought have been aware that their pet could legitimately pose a threat to others and failed to take appropriate preventive action. The relatively new law expands upon a more traditional “one bite” standard for liability that in many states implies an owner is only strictly liable after their dog has already attacked someone amid a previous incident. The statute, previously entertaining application to pit bulls alone, now applies to all breed of dogs.
Getting Your Legal Facts Right When a Dog Attacks
Hurt in a dog attack? The attorneys at Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP can help.
In general, it’s always a good idea to proceed with caution when you own a dog that may pose a serious threat to others on account of, for example, its size and temperament. The best way to avoid legal complications is often a simple use of common sense, avoiding walks near small children and otherwise keeping particularly intimidating dogs restrained properly.
However, when a dog attacks someone, both the owner and victim should familiarize themselves with the laws that will be decisive with respect to the aftermath thereof. At the outset, you should be aware that there are two distinct kinds of law that apply to the owner of the dog in question: basic negligence and strict liability. The Department of Legislative Services explains the difference and relevant case law associated therewith.
“Under a negligence claim,” it explains, “a defendant is held liable for damages if it is found that the defendant ‘…failed to exercise reasonable care in controlling the animal or preventing the harm caused by .’ Pahanish v. Western Trails, Inc., 69 Md. App. 342, 357 (1986) citing Slack v. Villari, 59 Md. App. 462, 476 (1984). The defendant’s actions or omissions must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and the resulting damages. For example, a violation of an animal control law may establish a prima facie case of negligence.”
With respect to strict liability, however, the owner’s actions appertaining to the dog attack itself are far less legally salient.
As the report adds, “The defendant’s knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity ‘need only be such as to put him on his guard, and to require him as an ordinary prudent person to anticipate the act or conduct of the dog resulting in the injury for which the owner is sought to be held liable.’ Shields v. Wagman, 350 Md. 666, 686 (1998), quoting Bachman v. Clark, 128 Md. 245, 248 (1916). On a showing of knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity, a plaintiff may recover under the common law on the basis of strict liability. Slack v. Villari, at 473.”
There are certainly a few compelling defenses for owners potentially facing liability. If the victim of attack was trespassing, attempting to trespass, committing another crime on your property, committing a crime against someone else or otherwise harassing the dog itself, the incident itself generally won’t produce any liability for the owner.
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Maryland Law Takes Dog Bites Seriously
Experiencing a dog attack can be a traumatic and costly experience. The combination of medical expenses, potential lost work, and emotional distress can become a serious issue for those injured by such attacks.
Indeed, some who have been subject to such attacks believe that Maryland’s strict liability statute doesn’t go far enough. Insofar as an owner is required to offer proof that the dog was not previously dangerous, it remains possible to escape liability on account of prior pet behavior that may be difficult to assess.
“It’s basically allowing the owner to say, ‘I didn’t know the dog was vicious,’” explains Cynthia Sprehe, per The Washington Post.
Sprehe’s daughter and own pet were attacked by a pit bull several years ago. As the Post added, “Ruby Sprehe, now 15, suffered minor bites and bruises and considerable psychological trauma from the attack, her mother said. Their dog, a 13-pound Havanese named Guido, nearly died, needing 70 stitches in addition to treatment for broken ribs and a punctured lung.”
Indeed, certain legal expectations apply if your dog might be properly described as a dangerous dog. A very specific legal term of art, a “dangerous dog” is one that, according to state law, “without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person, or it is a potentially dangerous dog that bites a person, when not on its owner’s real property, kills or inflicts severe injury on a domestic animal, or attacks without provocation.”
In the event you own a dangerous dog, you are required by law to keep the dog properly secured on your own property amid enclosure and otherwise assure it remains muzzled and restrained in the event you take it anywhere else. Regardless of whether or not such a dog is responsible for a dog attack, failure to abide by these regulations can translate into a $2,500 fine.
Finding the Right Attorney When You Need Help with a Dog Attack
However you may be impacted by a dog attack, it is wise to immediately contact an attorney and assure that you remain on the right side of the law to every possible extent. Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP has experience representing clients subject to these kinds of incidents, and they are prepared to handle your case with the utmost commitment and professionalism. In order to schedule a consultation, simply fill out our online form.