Dog Owner Defenses
November 16, 2018
There are some common dog owner defenses that we see over and over again in dangerous dog bite cases, such as the following:
- Committing or attempting to commit a crime that may result in a dog bite injury, such as assault and battery, or theft. This includes whether it is committing or attempting to commit a crime on the owner’s property and/or against the owner.
- Provoking, abusing, teasing, or tormenting the dog. If the dog bite victim was engaged in this sort of activity and it resulted in the dog biting the dog bite victim, that could be a defense to the dog bite lawsuit.
- Trespassing on the dog owner’s property, then the common law of trespass would apply to this.
Trespass can sometimes be a defense to a dog bite personal injury case. A dog owner is not liable when the dog bites a trespasser, whether the trespass is intentional or inadvertent. And an example of this would be if a delivery man saw a sign in a warehouse that said, “Guard dog on duty.” Despite reading the sign, the delivery man opened the door to an office or a space at the business, and was attacked by the guard dog. His conduct would be likely construed to have then an assumption of risk that caused his injury. This exact factual scenario played out in the case Benton v Aquarium Inc.
The owner of a dog may also raise the defense of contributory negligence. This is a very harsh law that, where if the plaintiff contributes in even the smallest percent, (even 1% responsible for the injuries that result to themselves) it can be a complete bar to any recovery. It’s a very harsh law that we have to live with, and it can sometimes be applied as a complete defense in certain types of situations for dog bite injury lawsuits. In other words, if the dog’s owner could show the injured person shared any responsibility at all for the injury, the injured person cannot recover their damages.
Negligence of the Parents
Sometimes the dog owner can raise negligence of the parents as a defense. Parents’ negligence can sometimes constitute an independent or even a superseding cause in the child’s injury. But this can only happen in extraordinary situations. A case where this was examined in Maryland is Caroline v Richter. The negligence of a child who is under the age of five can never be a defense to a dog bite lawsuit in Maryland. If the victim is five or over, he may be contributory negligent if he failed to exercise the degree of care of a reasonable person of like age, intelligence, or experiences under the law. But a child under the age of five cannot be held to be contributory negligent under any circumstances. The case establishing this law in Maryland is Miller v Craft.
Tenant Eviction Defense
In some circumstances, a landlord could raise the defense of not having time to evict a tenant. If a landlord is making attempts to evict a tenant with a dangerous dog, and during that time period where the landlord is using the process of the courts to successfully complete an eviction and the dog bites a victim, the landlord could have a defense to a dog bite personal injury lawsuit. However, the landlord can never rely on this defense if they have not made an attempt to evict the tenant that is harboring a dangerous dog.