Maine Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When can a dog bite victim sue the dog owner in Maine? Learn about the personal injury liability rules and defenses here.

Maine is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bite injury cases and liability of owners. In this article, we'll discuss what that means in the context of a Maine dog bite case. We'll also talk about the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in court in Maine, and the legal defenses a dog's owner might raise in response to a dog bite lawsuit.

Time Limits for Maine Dog Bite Injury Lawsuits 

Maine's "statute of limitations" limits the amount of time an injured person has to file a personal injury lawsuit in court after a dog bite or other injury caused by a dog. In Maine, an injury case must be filed no more than six years after the date of the injury.

Once the six-year deadline has passed, your case will likely be barred -- not heard by the court -- if you try to file after that date. So it's crucial to understand and abide by Maine's statute of limitations for injury lawsuits in the state's civil court system.

Maine's Dog Bite Statute

Maine's dog bite law appears in Section 3961 of the Maine Revised Statutes. The law applies not only to dog bites but to any damage inflicted by any animal on a person or property. Under the statute, an injured person may hold an animal's owner liable if:

  • the animal injured the person, damaged the person's property, or both, and
  • the injury or damage was not the fault of the injured person.

Maine is a "strict liability" state for purposes of many dog bite cases, meaning that fault on the part of the dog owner need not be established when making an injury claim. But Maine's law has slightly different requirements, depending on whether or not the injured person was on the owner's property when the injury occurred.

If the injury occurred on the owner's property, the injured person must show that the owner's negligence caused the injury (in other words, that the owner failed to exercise reasonable care in controlling the dog or otherwise preventing the injury).

If the injury did not occur on the owner's property, a showing of negligence is not required. Maine's animal injury law applies to any type of injury, not just to animal bites. For instance, if a person is knocked down by a large dog and suffers injury, he or she may seek compensation for that injury under Maine's law, even if the dog did not bite the person.

Defenses to a Maine Dog Bite Lawsuit

When an animal's owner is facing a lawsuit over a dog bite or any other animal-inflicted injury in Maine, two of the most common defenses that can be raised are provocation and trespassing.

Maine's animal injury statute specifies that an owner is not liable for injuries the animal causes if the injury or property damage was the "fault" of the injured person. What will count as "fault" depends on the facts of each particular case. For instance, an injured person may be at fault for injuries if he or she provoked the animal, causing it to attack. Many states absolve owners of liability if the injured person provokes the animal. While most states call this a "provocation" defense, in Maine this same defense falls under the heading of "fault" for animal injuries.

An injured person may be considered at fault for the injuries if the person was trespassing at the time of the injury. Property owner liability for trespasser injuries is limited in many ways. If the injured person was trespassing on the animal owner's property at the time of the injury, the negligence requirement in Maine's animal injury statute may also come into play.

Most states use a form of comparative or contributory negligence to sort out fault in negligence cases. These rules reduce or eliminate damages if the injured person was partly or totally at fault for the injury. Maine's dog bite law specifies that an animal's owner is not liable, even if the owner was negligent, if the fault of the injured person in causing the injury is larger than the fault of the animal's owner. If the injured person shares less than half the fault, however, the owner is liable for the full damages amount.

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