Dog Bites

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dog bite injury

For centuries, dogs have been considered man’s best friend. Sometimes, though, the relationship between humans and dogs becomes skewed. When a dog attacks, it can cause severe physical and psychological damage. If you or a loved one were attacked by a dog, contact a dog bite attorney as soon as possible to determine whether the owner is at fault, and what damages can be recovered for your injury.

Dog Bite Statistics

Across the country, the number of dog bites and attacks has been on the rise, as well as the rate of mortality from attacks. In 2015 alone, they were the cause of more than 28,000 reconstructive procedures for patients. Around 316,200 people are sent to the Emergency Room each year for dog bite-related injuries. That’s nearly 900 people per day. Children are at a particularly high risk for dog attacks. They are the fifth most common reason for children being sent to the hospital. In 2014, dog attacks cost the insurance industry approximately $530 million.

Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites

In Maryland and Washington DC, just like with other personal injury cases, the statute of limitations for a dog bite case is three years from the date of the injury (Virginia has a statute of limitations of two years). This means that a person who has been involved in an attack must file a suit on or before the deadline, otherwise they will be barred from filing a lawsuit later and recovering damages for their injuries. Having a skilled dog bite attorney working on the case will go a long way in ensuring that deadline is met.

Liability in Maryland Dog Bite Cases

In 2012, Tracey vs. Solesky spearheaded a landmark change in the way dog bite cases were handled. Tracey vs. Solesky addresses pit bulls in particular, as the plaintiffs’ child was the victim of a vicious attack. Prior to 2012, a plaintiff in a Maryland dog attack case would have to prove that the owner acted negligently in preventing the attack. With the advent of this court’s decision, both pit bull owners and landlords (if applicable) would be held strictly liable for injuries or deaths caused by the dog or dogs. In 2014, a new law was passed that applied strict liability to all dogs, not just breed-specific for pit bull-type dogs. Instead of most breeds being subject to the negligence claim and pit bulls in particular falling under strict liability, now strict liability applies to all breeds.

Strict Liability

Under strict liability, no negligence or fault on the part of the owner must be shown in order to bring a suit against them. It is assumed that if a dog has attacked another domestic animal, such as a dog or cat, or a human, the owner already had the knowledge that their dog was a potential danger to others. In order to avoid being charged under strict liability, the dog owner must prove they had no prior knowledge of the dog’s aggression.

Negligence

In order for someone to recover damages under the legal theory of negligence, the plaintiff must show that the owner’s lack of reasonable care of the animal, whether it was abiding by leash laws, keeping the dog on the premises, or muzzling them when out in public, were the proximate cause of their injuries.

Landlord Liability

In some cases, the landlord may be held liable in dog bite injury cases, as well. This was seen in Matthews vs. Amberwood Associates Limited Partnership in 1998. In this case, the landlord was found liable for a pit bull attack that had occurred on their property. Tracey vs. Solesky references this case, stating, “…[W]here a landlord retained control over the matter of animals in the tenant’s apartment, coupled with the knowledge of past vicious behavior by the animal, the extremely dangerous nature of pit bull dogs, and the foreseeability of harm to persons and property in the apartment complex, the jury was justified in finding that the landlord had a duty to the plaintiffs and that the duty was breached.”

Under the law, landlords can be held responsible for dog attacks that occur on their property under certain circumstances. The first circumstance would be the landlord having actual knowledge of the dog living on the premises. The second would be if they had the ability to remove the dog from the premises, including through tenant eviction, yet neglected to do so; or if they did not have the ability to remove the dog, then they failed to post adequate warnings or inform their tenants appropriately. Lastly, if the landlord harbored the animal themselves, such as taking it out on walks, feeding it, or otherwise watching the dog while the owner was away, they then take on de facto ownership of the dog and can fall under strict liability.

Criminal Charges in Dog Attacks

Sometimes, the dog attack was so severe against a human or another animal that criminal charges are pressed. If a dog has already been determined dangerous or potentially dangerous, the owner must abide by certain rules. This includes keeping the dog within the premises, and if it is being taken off the property, appropriately retrained and muzzled. Should an owner fail to do this, they are in violation of these rules and may face a criminal misdemeanor charge. Criminal charges may also result from a severe attack resulting in serious injury or death. Once a dog has shown that it will attack another human or animal, and especially after it has done so, it is considered a dangerous dog.

Common Defenses to Dog Bite Charges

Some common defenses an owner whose dog attacked another person may use include contributory negligence and trespassing, which can fall under premises liability laws. If the owner uses contributory negligence as a defense, this means that they are claiming that the plaintiff contributed to their injury in some way, such as antagonizing the dog, or ignoring posted or verbal warnings. Under the law, someone who is even one percent at fault for their injuries, even if the other person is 99% at fault, can be barred from ever receiving recovery. This is why it is particularly good practice to retain the services of a highly skilled dog bite lawyer, as they can argue against the contributory negligence claim and work towards obtaining the best results possible for their client.

The other option, trespassing, also could potentially bar a person from receiving compensation. If the plaintiff was not invited onto the dog owner’s property, yet trespassed anyway and was subsequently attacked, the dog owner would be protected through premises liability laws, where the homeowner is not held liable for any injuries a trespasser may incur on their property as they lawfully should not have been there.

Contact a Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one were involved in a dog attack, contact a dog bite lawyer with the skills and experience to help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case. The attorneys at Malloy Law Offices, LLC are highly dedicated and thoroughly knowledgeable of Maryland dog bite laws, and will work tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for your free consultation to discuss your case.

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