December 13, 2018
You’ve been bitten by a dog–what’s next?
Owning dogs is popular–unfortunately those dogs can bite or injure people. People who are bit or injured by dogs can sometimes have a personal injury claim against the dog owner or a party that should have exercised some control over the dog.
The first thing you should do is to protect yourself and seek safety. If you’re injured, you should seek prompt medical care. This will also have the dual effect of documenting your injuries should you end up pursuing a Bethesda personal injury case related to your dog bite.
The next thing you should do is contact police or animal control. In Maryland, it may be that you contact a county government authority, for instance, Montgomery County Animal Control, or Prince George’s County Animal Control. If it’s an emergency, you could also contact the police (either the emergency line or the non-emergency line) in the county that the dog bite occurred in. The next thing you should do is attempt to ascertain the dog owner and collect their information. You will need their insurance and contact information. Do not speak with an insurance company representative until you contact a dog bite lawyer.
The fact is, people get bit by dogs all the time. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an actionable claim for a personal injury dog bite under the law.
The law states that the owner of a dog is liable for any injury, death, or lost personal property that is caused by the dog when the dog is running at large. The law covers not only injuries inflicted by a dog bite, but also other types of injuries that could have been inflicted by the dog’s aggressive behavior. For example, let’s say a person is walking down a sidewalk, park, or another public area and a dog runs up and jumps on the person, knocking them down. If the dog injures the person in some way, such as breaking their bones or causing cuts or bruises, then the dog bite or the dog attack victim could have a viable personal injury case against the dog owner.
The dog owner could be held liable for the injuries and damages related to the dog’s actions even though the aggressive dog never actually bit the victim. So, prior to 2014, Maryland applied the “every dog gets one bite” rule and common law negligence principles to animal bite personal injury law.
After 2014, Maryland imposed a mixed strict tort liability: Sub-section A of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 3-1901 imposes strict liability unless the owner can prove that he neither knew nor should have known that his dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. In other words, there is a rebuttal presumption created that the dog owner knew or should have known that his dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.
The burden has shifted in that it is now on the dog owner to prove that they had no knowledge of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities. Sub-section C of Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 3-1901 imposes strict liability for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by a dog which is at large, except if the victim was trespassing, committing a criminal offense against any person, or provoking the dog. Being at large means the dog is off a leash, running loose in a common area, in a public area, not under the control of the dog owner. The sub-section C speaks to several defenses that a dog owner may have to a plaintiff’s dog bite lawsuit.
Sub-section D of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings section 3-1901 reiterates that the victim can also rely for his claim on common law principles of negligence, negligence per se, and other common law or statutory causes of action.
In other words, the dog owner, in allowing the dog or allowing the dog to bite a dog-bite victim violated some kind of local, or state law, or ordinance, or other common law or statutory causes of action. This sub-section of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings section also establishes that a defendant can have common law or statutory defenses or immunities–a very important one in Maryland being the law of contributory negligence.