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Dog Bite Personal Injury Cases in Maryland

Speaking for all of the lawyers at this firm, we love dogs. Dogs bite people because their instincts sometimes compel them to bite. It is not the dog's fault. But their owners and caretakers are responsible for making sure that a dog with does not bite an unsuspecting victim. If you are attacked and bitten by dog, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner and get financial compensation. In many cases, the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance will end up covering the damages. Our law firm handles dog bite cases in Maryland on behalf of victims and their families.

Dog Bites Cause Serious Injuries

Dog bites can cause very serious and sometimes permanent physical injuries. Injuries from dog attacks are usually a direct result of penetrating trauma of sharp teeth in combination with the crush delivered to any structures in vicinity of the bite. A large dog can easily crush bones, tear skin and cause disfiguring scarring.

According to the CDC, nearly 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Over 1,100 people go to the emergency room every day for dog bite injuries. As a country, we spend $1 billion a year in medical costs from animal attacks. More American die in animal attacks than by terrorism (but neither are particularly likely).

Sadly, a large percentage of dog bite victims are children. Dog bites are ranked 5th on the list of reasons children end up in the emergency room and, far too often, the bites are on the child's face. Children who have facial scarring from dog bites are more likely to be the victims of teasing, bullying, social isolation, depression and eating disorders.

Settlement Value of Dog Bite

Dog bite cases often have high settlement values because there is usually insurance to cover the loss and the injuries are often severe.  Our lawyers see a lot of dog bite cases where the victim suffers penetrating and crushing injuries that extend down to the bones, severing vessels and arteries, and tearing away flesh and muscle. The result is often swelling, ecchymosis, and devitalized tissue from the dog's teeth and tears, avulsions, and lacerations from the strength of the bite. 

Maryland Dog Bite Law

Under Maryland law, a dog owner may be liable for injuries caused by the dog under two alternate theories of liability: negligence or strict liability, the latter arising from the owner's knowledge of the animal's propensity to cause harm. Said differently, it is the dog owner's responsibility to restrain an animal for public safety whether you are on public or private property.

There is a myth that will no go away that Maryland is a one-bite state. This means that if the dog has never bitten anyone before, there is no liability for the dog owner. Let's clear this up with an unequivocal statement: Maryland is not a "one bite" state where a dog must have previously bitten someone to bring a claim.

In fact, under Maryland dog bite law, there are some breeds of dogs that are known to be so aggressive that no prior propensity to bite is required for that particular breed of dog. Pit bulls are the most obvious example. These are essentially strict liability claims. In other words, the plaintiff's lawyer must show that the dog was aggressive by nature and that the injuries were the result of the dog bite. To hold an animal's owner strictly liable, the dog bite victim must offer evidence that the owner knew, or should have known, of the propensity of the dog to cause the harm that was caused.

That is not the only possible claim. There also may be a negligence claim against the dog's owners if they knew or had reason to know of the animal's vicious propensity or where the owner has acted negligently in controlling his animal (including, violation of leash laws).

Common Insurance Company Defenses

Many insurance defense lawyers handling dog bite cases in Maryland are incorrectly convinced that a dog must have bitten someone before to create liability. This is a common defense. But it is just one factor to be considered.

Other defenses are that the victim provoked the dog (which sometimes happens and it is a good defense if true), was a trespasser (which raises the bar on the claim) or that the victim was otherwise negligent or assumed the risk that the dog might bite. These defenses can typically be defeated with good lawyering. But with insurance companies, it is almost invariably a battle to get to a reasonable settlement without a trial.

Settlement Value of Dog Bite Cases

Dog bite cases often have high settlement values because there is usually insurance to cover the loss and the injuries are often severe.  Our lawyers see a lot of dog bite cases where the victim suffers penetrating and crushing injuries that extend down to the bones, severing vessels and arteries, and tearing away flesh and muscle. The result is often swelling, ecchymosis, and devitalized tissue from the dog's teeth and tears, avulsions, and lacerations from the strength of the bite. 

Sample Dog Bite Settlements and Verdicts

Another way to get a better feel for the settlement value of dog bite cases in Maryland is to look at sample settlements and verdicts. You can't calculate an average payout looking at sample verdicts and settlements. But the do give you a better idea of the range of settlement values. 

  • 2017, Greenbelt: $545,000 Verdict. A 7-year-old girl is bitten by a pit bull owned by her parent's landlord. She has five surgeries, permanent scars on legs, and, not surprisingly, post-traumatic stress from the attack. She is awarded $270,000 for her pain and suffering $275,000 for her past and future medical expenses. (A pretty light award given the scope of the child's injuries.)
  • 2012, Baltimore: $27,619 Verdict. A minor female is playing in her front yard when she is mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull. The dog had escaped from a nearby house and caused permanent dog bite injuries to the young girl’s face, arm, and leg. Plaintiff claims that defendant failed to control her animal and keep it on her own property. Defendant denied liability. The Baltimore City jury that heard that case did not but it and awarded a $27,619 verdict.
  • 2011, Upper Marlboro: $70,000 Verdict. A plaintiff is on a walk with his dog. The defendant’s dog escapes from a fenced yard and began making threatening motions towards the plaintiff. After a brief scuffle between the animals, the dog bites plaintiff's hand. He goes to Prince George’s Hospital where he requires surgery. Plaintiff demands compensation for his injuries and pain and suffering. He claims that defendant knew or should have known about his dog’s violent propensities and failed to keep it in his own yard. Defendant denies liability and argues that the victim’s own dog was responsible for the bite. The Prince George's County jury awarded $70,000 to the victim.
  • 2011, Upper Marlboro: $110,000 Verdict. A mailman is on the job and delivering a parcel to defendant’s home when a pit bull terrier breaks through the front door and attacks him. The dog mauls the mailman for over ten minutes and inflicts carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve and tendon damage, as well as PTSD. Additionally, the mailman has scarring and lost income earning capability. The mailman sues the dog's owners and the apartment renters, claiming they did not properly restrain their animal. The renting company is granted a motion for summary judgment because the owners misrepresented their pets as boxers. The judge declares the owners to be in default and awards the victim $110,000 in damages.
How Much is My Dog Bite Case Worth in a Settlement or at Trial?

Dog bite cases have an average settlement value around $15 to $30,000, depending on the level of injury. The median dog bite verdict in Maryland is $24,600. Some dog bite cases involving serious, permanent injuries can have a much higher value. Our law firm only handles larger dog bite cases. If we agree to handle your dog bite case, it is because we believe your settlement or verdict will be substantially higher than the median numbers cited above.

Who Pays a Settlement if I Sue a Dog Owner for my Injuries?

The dog owner’s insurance usually pays for any settlement. Homeowner's policies and some renter's insurance policies will cover strict liability and negligence in dog bite cases in Maryland. This holds true even if the dog is not on the homeowner's property. Homeowner's insurance policies are must more expansive than insureds and victim believe. You would be amazed at how broad these policies are when it comes to dog bite cases.

What if the Dog Owner has no Insurance?

If the dog owner does not have any insurance, the claim is far more problematic. Most people who have assets that could pay a judgment have homeowners' or renters' insurance. Many good cases never see the light of day because there is no insurance coverage and the defendant does not have the money to pay for the harm that was caused.

What if I was Petting or Playing with the Dog when He Bit Me?

It depends on the facts. If you provoked the dog in a way that a reasonable person would not, you have both contributory negligence and assumption of the risk problems that will likely be fatal to your claim. But in many and, arguably, most cases, it is reasonable to believe that if the pet's owner lets you play with or pet the dog than you have a reasonable expectation.

How Long Do I Have to Bring a Claim?

Generally, the answer is three years. This is subject to certain exceptions. You want to contact a lawyer on this issue sooner rather than later just so you are clear on your deadline to file. Because that deadline is firm and after it passes you have no further rights no matter how viable your claim may be.

What is the New Maryland Law on Dog Bite Liability?

In April, 2014, the Maryland legislature passed a "breed neutral" law that effectively eliminates the so called "one bite" rule. The rule creates an assumption that dog owners know their dogs can bite.

But this carefully balanced new law also allows the owner to neutralize that legal presumption, if they can show a reasonable owner would not believe that the dog was at risk to cause harm.

This legislation effectively nixes the much maligned ruling of the Maryland Court Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky (2012) which found that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and that strict liability should be imposed on both the owners of pits bulls and landlords.

What if the Dog's Owner is a Friend or Family Member?

We have handled cases where children sued their parents, friends suing friends, siblings suing siblings. Obviously, if there is no insurance, you have to consider whether bringing a claim is going to sabotage critical relationships in your life.

But our law firm is almost invariably bringing claims where the defendant has insurance. In these cases, while someone you care for may be the "defendant", what really matters is who is paying the settlement and that is the insurance company.

We had a son suing the parents case once where I later learned that the parents did a really good job of pushing the insurance company to settle. So while it sounds a little strange suing someone you care about, it usually works out without anyone's feelings being hurt.

What will Happen to the Dog if I Bring a Claim?

Different counties in Maryland have different rules for dealing with dogs who cause serious injury or kill. But the civil lawsuit against the dog owner has absolutely nothing to do with the how the authorities treat the dog.

How Much Money can I Expect to Get as Compensation for my Injuries?

A dog bite case is no different from any other personal injury case. You can find statistics and sample verdicts and settlement here that shed some light on the value of these claims. Really, these cases are not much different than any other personal injury case and you can learn more about the valuation process here.

What Should I Do Before I Talk to a Lawyer?

The big things you can do are to take pictures of your injuries and make sure you don't talk to the insurance company about your injuries or details about the dog bite itself.

Call Us About You Dog Bite Case

Our firm handles serious injury dog bite injury cases. We know Maryland law and we fight for victims with every ounce of strength that we have. If you or your child have been injured from a dog bite in Maryland, call 800-553-8082 or get a free on-line consultation.

More Resources
  • Many dog bite cases are premises liability claims. Learn more about this area of the law
  • Learn more about "dog chased me and caused an accident" type cases
    • Deposition of dog owner whose dog chased our client, causing a motorcycle crash and serious physical injuries (see the police report)
  • Do you have a dog bite injury claim and need help to get justice? Call our law firm at 800-553-8082 and let's talk about your case. You can also click here for a free consultation
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