When Is a Dog Attack the Owner’s Fault in Maryland?
September 9, 2019
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Large black dogMan’s best friend sometimes fails to understand limits, and confrontations become virtually unavoidable unless some dogs are properly trained or kept on a leash. The consequences associated with owners who encourage conditions wherein their pet dogs might attack an innocent bystander can be serious, especially according to Maryland law. For Maryland residents, you can even be fined simply for failing to keep what might be described as a “dangerous dog” under proper control.

Maryland statutory code (section 10.619) explains what distinguishes such a dog and the responsibilities associated therewith.

According to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center, Maryland statute defines what is a ‘dangerous dog.’ As defined by statute, a dog is dangerous when it has injured or killed another person. It is considered “potentially dangerous” when it bites a person, or injures or kills an animal without provocation. When a dog is considered dangerous, the owner of the dog is legally required to keep the dog secured on their property, and must prevent the dog attacking by restraint, muzzle, or both.

Owners aren’t only responsible for keeping dangerous dogs under control. They also must take into account incidents wherein they may be responsible for damage caused by a dog, previously deemed dangerous or otherwise. Whereas some states adopt a “one bite” policy that affords owners some measure of leniency, Maryland treats the scenario as one accounting for strict liability for any incurred damages instead. That means that if your dog bites or attacks someone, you may be held responsible for any medical expenses associated therewith (and, conceivably, emotional and physical distress).

Whether you have a dog that has incurred such liability (or runs a high risk of so doing) or otherwise has been subject to such an attack, rest assured that consultation with a qualified attorney can help you better understand your rights and assure that you are treated fairly on account thereof. You may be entitled to file a dog attack lawsuit, or it may be essential that you protect yourself from one instead. Either way, Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP has a long history of dealing with similar circumstances and in a strictly professional fashion.

Better Understanding Questions of Liability Appertaining to Dog Bites

Generally speaking, if you own a dog who attacks an innocent bystander, there’s a good chance you might be in a bit of trouble—or, at any rate, subject to the plausibly legitimate perception thereof. According to section 3-1901 of the Code of Maryland, “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.”

There are, however, some exceptions to this rule, and it’s important to better familiarize yourself with how different circumstances may impact the legal consequences to which one might be subject. Owners aren’t always culpable for the harm inflicted by their own dog, particularly if it appears to be the case that said dog was in some way legitimately trying to protect someone or something from an unauthorized intruder.

Have questions about dog attack law? Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP is here to help.

That means that there are at least four kinds of circumstances wherein a dog’s owner ordinarily would not be held liable. If the attacked individual was trespassing upon the owner’s property (or attempting to so do), the owner cannot be held liable according to law. If said individual was otherwise in the process of or attempting to commit a crime (beyond trespassing) on the owner’s property, that would likely avert liability. Additionally, if someone is attacked by a dog because they are attempting to commit a crime against someone else, the dog’s owner is off the hook (and maybe even a local hero). Finally, if the dog in question was being provoked, abused, teased or otherwise tormented by someone, then statute generally presupposes that someone had it coming.

With respect to negligence, wherein an owner ought to have essentially known better and may, therefore, be subject to greater consequence, there are also some exceptions. Namely, if the actions of an individual who was attacked can legitimately be construed as to have caused the incident in any meaningful way, that generally constitutes contributory negligence—meaning the dog’s owner is his or herself no longer strictly liable.

To avoid strict liability (particularly in a world where the dog in question was at large and unconstrained), the owner must actually prove that he or she had no idea their dog was aggressive or dangerous. That can be a difficult burden of proof in a world where there’s any hint of evidence regarding that dog’s prior behavior (including, for example, the testimony of a neighbor who’s seen it at work).

Negligence is another matter, but it still applies to some dog attacks. If an owner ought to have known better with respect to how its dog was behaving and owed a basic duty of care to those potentially affected thereby, that can be problematic. Having your youngest child walk an angry dog twice her size down the street might be a really bad idea. If something occurs on account thereof, you might be liable due to negligence. That doesn’t mean you’re the worst person in the world. It simply means that you could probably use the help of an attorney before otherwise trying to resolve the matter.

Similarly, if you have a dog that might be frightened into aggressive behavior based upon your past assessments, it’s a good idea to be conscientious with respect to where you take it and what may happen as a result. Trying to avoid precarious dynamics is a good thing, but people do make mistakes. When that happens, it may be time to seek legal help.


Having a Maryland Attorney On Your Side After a Dog Attack

Being associated with a dog attack may seem like a somewhat trivial matter, but it can indeed become cause for costly injury or other hardship. Put simply, these kinds of encounters are nothing to take lightly. In order to remain on the right side of the law amid such a scenario, it’s best to get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible in the wake thereof. If you are in the Baltimore area, we are here to help. Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP will take your rights and interests seriously amid your pursuit of justice. In order to arrange an appointment, simply fill out our online form.