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Dog Bites: Maryland Laws and Common Defenses

Dogs truly are man’s best friend; they provide essential guidance for the disabled, they search for and recover missing persons, and they uncover evidence of crimes, not to mention providing much-needed affection and companionship. However, not all dog owners provide the attention and training dogs need to behave properly, which can often result in aggression and violent behaviors. When dogs bite and cause injury, their owners may be held legally liable. For more information about dog bites and other animal attacks, please contact a Maryland dog bite attorney

Strict Liability for Dog Bites in Maryland

Maryland is a “strict liability” jurisdiction when it comes to liability for dog bites. Traditionally, liability for dog bites was based on the “one bite rule,” which held that a dog owner could only be held liable for bites if he or she knew or should have known of the dog’s propensity to bite. This rule was based on the idea that every dog got a “free” bite, which then put its owner on notice that it was likely to bite again. The modern law of strict liability holds that the occurrence of a bite creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had the propensity to bite. 

In Maryland, a dog owner is liable for injury and death caused by his or her dog while the dog is running at large unless the injury or death was caused to a person who was:

  1. Committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner;
  2. Committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person; or
  3. Teasing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog.

It is important to note that the language of the Maryland statute is broad enough to encompass not just bites, but any aggressive dog behavior that causes injury or death. A non-bite-related injury could occur, for example, if a free-roaming dog jumps on a person and knocks them to the ground. 

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability 

There are a variety of defenses available to dog owners faced with a personal injury action for dog bites. In addition to the three statutory defenses above, dog owners may attempt to make one or more of the following defenses: 

  • Lack of knowledge: As noted above, the Maryland statute merely creates a rebuttable presumption that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. As such, dog owners may rebut the statutory presumption by presenting evidence that they did not know nor could have known of their dog’s propensity to bite. 
  • Contributory negligence: Maryland is a contributory negligence jurisdiction that bars plaintiffs from recovering if they were partially at fault for the injury. The dog owner may argue that the victim invited the injury upon himself by approaching the dog. 
  • Assumption of the risk: In some cases, dog owners may argue that the victim voluntarily assumed the risk of suffering a dog bite by failing to heed the owner’s warning to avoid the dog.  

Speak With a Skilled Maryland Dog Bite Attorney 

If you have suffered a dog bite injury, you may be able to recover for your damages under Maryland’s strict liability statute. For more information about liability for dog bites, please contact a dog bite lawyer at the Law Offices of Thomas E. Pyles by calling 301-705-5006 or filling out our online form. Our three main offices are in Waldorf, Laurel and Leonardtown