Articles Posted in Dog Bite/Attack

Dogs are man’s best friend, but sometimes these animals can cause serious harm to individuals when they get aggressive, attack, or bite them. While many people do not consider dogs to be a risk, Maryland dog bites are so common that there is a body of law in the state specifically allowing those hurt by someone else’s dog to sue dog owners for negligence. This does not mean that every dog is a danger, but it is important to be aware of your legal rights when dog bites occur.

For an example of a legal case resulting from a dog bite, take a recent state appellate court opinion. According to the court’s written opinion, the dog bite occurred when the plaintiff’s five-year-old son visited his neighbors’ house to play with their daughter. Their neighbors had two dogs, and usually would put them in crates or in the other room when the son came over to play. But one time, the dogs were not put away, and the five-year-old returned home at some point with a bite on his leg from one of them. The next day, the plaintiffs found out that it had been over a year since the dog had been vaccinated for rabies. The child was treated for his injuries, and also had to receive a series of rabies shots.

Maryland Code section 3-1901 covers personal injuries and deaths caused by a dog. Importantly, Maryland creates a system of strict liability. While some jurisdictions are a bit more lenient for dog owners, and may make the plaintiff prove in court that the owner knew that the dog had vicious or dangerous tendencies (and was likely to attack), Maryland imposes a stricter standard. According to state law, in actions against dog owners for personal injury or death caused by a dog, it is enough to show “evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death.” Presenting this evidence creates “a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.”

By and large, dogs are loyal companions and when well-trained present little danger to those whom they come into contact with while out in public. However, each year hundreds of people are bitten or attacked by a dog. For the most part, these Maryland dog bite injuries are the result of irresponsible dog owners who fail to provide their pets with the necessary care or supervision. However, some dogs are naturally more aggressive and may attack passersby without warning.

As a general rule, a dog owner can only be held liable for injuries caused by their animal if they knew or had reason to know that the animal was dangerous. Historically, Maryland applied the “one bite” rule, meaning that an owner was only presumed to know of a dog’s propensity for violence if the dog had bitten (or attempted to bite) someone in the past. However, in 2014 the Maryland legislature changed the state’s dog-bite liability statute.

Currently, Maryland employs a strict liability framework when determining if an owner can be held liable for injuries caused by their dog. This means that a dog bite victim will not need to establish that the owner was negligent in any way or knew of their dog’s propensity for violence. Under Maryland Code § 3-1901(a), evidence that a dog attacked another person creates a “rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.” Thus, under § 3-1901, an owner will be presumed to be liable for the injuries caused by their animals unless the owner can provide evidence that they did not know of the dog’s dangerous propensities.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal from a negligence lawsuit filed after a man suffered injuries because of a dog bite. The court found that the parents of a son whose dog bit their neighbor were negligent and therefore liable for the injuries the neighbor sustained. The case is relevant to Maryland dog bite cases because it illustrates the manner in which courts view these claims as well as a common theory of liability.

Facts of the Case

Animal control was called to a location because there was a report of a vicious dog. The dog was owned by the son of the couple who owned the house. When the animal control officer arrived, she attempted to capture the animal, but even with assistance, it proved difficult because the animal was aggressively charging at anyone in the vicinity. The next day, the son called animal control to report that the dog was missing. The city explained that the son must sign a form that he acknowledged the requirements of keeping and controlling an aggressive dog. The father verbally agreed to follow the requirements and keep the dog on his property, rather than at the son’s apartment.

A few months later, the animal control officer received a report that a dog bite occurred near the family’s home. Later, the owner of the dog was identified as the defendants’ son. The son was cited for not controlling his dog, and the father stated that the son and the dog are not allowed on his property. Evidently, the bite occurred when the neighbor asked if he could pet the dog, and the son agreed, stating that if the dog and neighbor became “friends,” the dog may stop charging at the fence. When the neighbor went to pet the dog, the dog jumped up, knocked him down, and bit his face. Sadly, a whole segment of the man’s face was torn off.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court handed down a decision in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff who was seriously injured after she was attacked by several dogs belonging to the defendant. The case required the court to determine whether the owner of the dogs could be held strictly liable for the injuries caused by the dogs. Additionally, the court had to determine if the plaintiff’s potential negligence in bringing about her own injuries should factor into the jury’s decision.

The case presents several interesting issues for Maryland dog bite victims because Maryland law applies a similar standard to that which is applied in the case. However, under Maryland’s contributory negligence law, a plaintiff who is found to be even the slightest bit at fault for her own injuries will be precluded from recovery. Thus, while the laws applied in the case are different in some ways from those in Maryland, the case is still illustrative of how a similar case could proceed in a Maryland courtroom.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, who was on a friend’s property hunting squirrels, was attacked by a pack of dogs belonging to the defendant. The plaintiff brought a personal injury lawsuit against the dogs’ owners, arguing that the owner of a dog is strictly liable for any injuries caused by the dog. Thus, under the plaintiff’s argument, there need not be a showing of negligence in order for a dog’s owner to be found liable; proof of ownership is sufficient to establish liability.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a dog bite case requiring the court to discuss an owner’s liability for their dog’s dangerous actions. The court ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to survive a summary judgment challenge by the defendants, and the case was permitted to proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations. The rules discussed in the case may be of interest to plaintiffs in Maryland dog bite cases as well.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were neighbors with the defendants, who had recently permitted their adult son to move back into their home. The defendants’ son brought his pit bull, named Rocks, with him into the defendants’ home. The defendants permitted Rocks to stay with them as long as he was kept in a kennel in the back yard and not allowed to run loose.

While Rocks was at the defendants’ home, there were two instances when he acted aggressively. First, Rocks growled at the plaintiff husband when he came over to visit with the defendants. However, Rocks did not lunge at the plaintiff husband or bite him. The second instance was when Rocks growled aggressively at the defendant wife when she went to feed him. Notwithstanding these instances, the defendants permitted Rocks to remain at their home.

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Last month, an appellate court in nearby West Virginia issued a written opinion in a dog bite case that required the court to determine if the local county government could be held liable for the plaintiff’s loss of a loved one based on a government employee’s failure to act. Ultimately, the court concluded that a special relationship was created by the plaintiff’s repeated efforts to notify the city of the dangerous dogs. Thus, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a man who had died after being viciously attacked by several dogs belonging to a neighbor. Prior to the death of her husband, the plaintiff had expressed her concern about the dogs by calling 911 and speaking with the county’s dog warden. The plaintiff explained that she thought the dogs were dangerous and that something should be done. The dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.”

On a separate occasion, the dog warden traveled to the dogs’ owner’s home. When the warden pulled into the driveway, one of the dogs approached the car and jumped on the hood. The dog warden reported being frightened to the point where she would not exit the vehicle. She later cited the dog’s owner for failing to keep the dog restrained.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Nebraska heard an interesting personal injury case in which the plaintiff was injured by her own reaction to a dog’s aggressive approach, rather than any injury sustained by physical contact with the dog itself. In the case, Grammer v. Lucking, the plaintiff sustained injuries to her arm and elbow after she tripped and fell as she was backing away from an approaching dog owned by the defendant.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her husband were on a walk when, as they approached the defendant’s home, the couple attracted the attention of two of the defendant’s dogs. One of the dogs was on a chain and was unable to get close to the couple, but the other dog was free and was able to run up to the couple. As the dog approached the plaintiff, she stepped back and lost her footing, falling to the ground. She sustained injuries as a result of the fall and filed a lawsuit against the dogs’ owner.

At trial, the court granted summary judgment for the defendant, noting that the dog did not “chase” or “injure” the plaintiff, as is required by state statute.

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Earlier this year in July, a Maryland State Trooper was responding to a call in Mechanicsville when she was attacked by the homeowner’s pit-bull. According to a report by a local news source, the officer was responding to a call regarding a unconscious person inside a home. As the officer entered the home, the dog charged at her.

The officer dodged the dog’s first attack, but it retreated and then came back a second time. In its second attack the dog managed to take away the officer’s baton and bite the officer in the foot. In response to her threatened safety, the officer fired a single shot at the animal, wounding it. The pit-bull then retreated.

The dog ran off after being injured, and police tried unsuccessfully to locate it. Neighbors told responding officers that this was not the first time that the dog had attacked someone.

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Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill into law that overturns a controversial 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision regarding pit bull-type dogs. In Tracey v. Solesky, 50 A.3d 1075 (Md. App. 2012), the court modified the standard of negligence applied to attacks by pit bulls against humans, applying strict liability to dog owners and landlords who allow the dogs on premises they own or control. The decision met with substantial criticism from animal welfare advocates, landlords and other property owners, and many others. In addition to causing multiple evictions and surrenders of dogs to animal shelters, the decision may have made it more difficult for people to assert claims for damages by dogs that were not pit bulls. The new law applies the same standard of liability to all dog owners, regardless of the dog’s breed.

The Solesky case involved injuries to a young boy by a dog named Clifford. The boy required five hours of surgery and spent seventeen days in the hospital. His family sued the dog’s owner and the landlord, claiming that the landlord knew or had reason to know of the dog’s dangerous tendencies. The landlord presented several questions to the Court of Appeals, including whether harboring American Staffordshire Terriers, or “pit bulls,” is an “inherently dangerous activity” that would support the common law strict liability standard for a landlord. Id. at 1078.

The court ruled that “pit bulls” are “aggressive and vicious” by nature and expressly modified the common law negligence rule to hold landlords strictly liable for injuries caused by such dogs. Id. at 1079-80. A strict liability standard would apply if the plaintiff could prove that the landlord knew of the presence of a pit bull or cross-breed pit bull. A dissenting opinion by Judge Clayton Greene, Jr. noted the lack of expert opinion regarding pit bull temperament. It also noted the lack of a clear definition of “pit bull,” and the opinion of many experts that the term is “a generic category encompassing the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.” Id. at 1096. See also Weigel v. Maryland, 950 F.Supp.2d 811, 822 (D. Md. 2013).

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Towards the end of last month, Maryland legislators began the process of passing a bill to address whether or not pit bulls should continue to be singled out as inherently aggressive, thus impacting the potential liability that their owners face in a lawsuit. Last year, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that pit bulls are dangerous by nature, a move that has angered some pit bull lovers and activists.

According to the terms of thebill all dogs would be considered inherently dangerous. If passed, a victim of a dog bite, regardless of breed, could sue the dog’s owner. Thus, the bill acts as a sort redefinition of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which ruled that pit bull owners and landlords would be held to strict liability standards for dog bites. Strict liability, in this context, means the owner would be liable without any additional evidence prior to the attack that a dog was dangerous. The new law thus creates the presumption that all dog owners, regardless of the breed, are presumed liable for attacks.

The law has run into some complications. The Senate took up a separate version of the bill that included a new provision requiring dog owners to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that their dog was not dangerous before the attack in order to prevail. Critics of this version argue that dog owners will be virtually incapable of rebutting a claim because the standard of proof is so high.

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