Maryland Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Learn about a dog owner's liability for damages in a personal injury claim or lawsuit brought by the animal attack victim in Maryland.

Several key points of Maryland dog bite law are covered in this article. The first section addresses the time limit, or "statute of limitations," that pertains to filing a dog bite lawsuit or other dog-related injury case in court. Next, we'll look at Maryland's "dog bite statute" and its status as a "strict liability" state. Finally, we'll discuss some defenses that a dog's owner might raise in court.

Deadlines for Maryland Dog Bite Lawsuits

In Maryland, a person injured by a dog has three years to bring a case to court. This deadline, called the "statute of limitations," applies to civil lawsuits only, not to criminal cases. It typically starts running on the day the injury occurs. If an injured person doesn't file their lawsuit with Maryland's civil court system within this time period, he or she will likely be barred from ever filing one. So, it's important to ensure you do not miss the three-year deadline.

The Maryland "Dog Bite Statute"

In 2014, Maryland’s dog bite laws were significantly overhauled. Under the new set of rules, an owner of a dog that is “running at large” when it attacks someone can be held “strictly liable” for all injuries and other damages stemming from the dog’s aggressive behavior.

"Strict liability" means no negligence or any kind of fault on the part of the owner needs to be shown.  In most other situations, when a dog bites or attacks someone in Maryland, it creates a “rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.” The dog owner will need to prove that he or she did not have that knowledge in order to avoid liability. All of this is laid out in Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Annotated Section 3-1901. You can access the full text of this law using the official online version of the Annotated Code of Maryland.

Negligence and Maryland Dog Bites

In addition to the "strict liability" statute discussed above, civil lawsuits for dog-related injuries can also be considered under Maryland's common law rules of negligence. Under this rule, in order to recover damages for a dog bite, the injured person must show that the owner's lack of reasonable care caused the dog bite. This basic rule can also apply to other dog-related injuries, such as injuries suffered in a fall when a large dog knocks someone over.

Defenses to a Dog Bite Claim in Maryland

When facing a civil suit for dog bite in Maryland, an owner may have several defenses, including contributory negligence and trespassing. (Note: These may not come into play if the case falls under the state's "strict liability" dog bite statute, discussed above.

"Contributory negligence" refers to situations in which the injured person's behavior caused or contributed to his or her injuries. For instance, if an injured person was bitten by a dog after repeatedly poking the dog with a stick, the dog's owner might argue that the injured person contributed to the injury by provoking the dog.

Maryland uses a contributory fault rule that bars any recovery if the injured person is found to be partly responsible for the injuries, no matter how small the contribution was. For example, if a person bitten by a dog is found by a court to be 1 percent at fault for the injury, and the owner is found to be 99 percent at fault, the injured person will nevertheless be barred from collecting anything from the dog's owner.

Maryland law also states that trespassers, or people who are on another's private property without permission, may not receive compensation for their injuries. This rule is consistent with others that limit homeowner liability for trespasser injuries.

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