If you are attacked and bitten by a dog in Maryland, 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 and paying any dog bite settlement. Our lawyers handle dog bite personal injury 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 the vicinity of the bite. A large dog can easily crush bones, tear skin and cause disfiguring scarring.
It is not just the postman getting bit in 2021. According to the CDC, an astounding 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 Americans 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 Lawsuits
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 Laws
Under Maryland law, a dog owner may be liable for injuries to the plaintiff if the defendant created an unreasonable risk of harm under circumstances where it was foreseeable that an injury could occur.
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. People often make up what they think Maryland dog bite laws are and it causes confusion. Maryland is not a "one bite" state where a dog must have previously bitten someone to bring a claim.
Adding to the confusion, Maryland dog bite law has changed over the years. For a time, it was Maryland law allowed for strict liability for some breeds of dogs because they are known to be so aggressive (because of myths about dog breeds and propensities). But this now has been expanded to all breeds.
So dog bite lawyers in Maryland have two alternate theories of liability - negligence or strict liability. Strict liability can apply from the owner's knowledge of the animal's propensities to cause harm. The new (now seven-year-old) Maryland law actually expands liability because it provides that same tough standard imposed on pit bulls to all dogs.
Often, the best way to truly understand the our dog bite laws is to look at the law that a jury would be told to follow in a dog bite lawsuit in Maryland. This is Model Pattern Jury Instruction 4:2 titled "Liability of Owner":
An owner of an animal will be liable for damage proximately caused by the animal if the owner exercised ineffective control of the animal in a situation where it would reasonably be expected that injury could occur. In determining the necessary degree of control, the past behavior of the animal and the foreseeability of the injuries should be considered.
So a negligence claim against the dog's owners is premised on the fact that the owner 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).
- Sample dog bite complaint
- Sample dog bite interrogatories to a dog owner
- Plaintiff's answers to interrogatories in a dog bite case
- Defendant's interrogatories to the plaintiff in a dog bite case
- Plaintiff's requests for admission in a dog bite case
Lawyers sometimes also misunderstand Maryland law. 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.Maryland Dog Bite Settlements and Verdicts
Dog bite cases in the Baltimore-Washington area 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 lawsuits 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. These are the type of dog bite lawsuits that result in higher settlement compensation payouts.
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 they do give you a better idea of the range of settlement compensation values by looking at some fairly typical dog bite settlements and verdicts.
You can expect more dog bite lawsuit to be filed in Maryland over the next year as the number of dog bites has soared during COVID.
- 2019, Baltimore: $759,560 Bench Verdict. A nursing home owner’s pit bull bit a resident and employee. The resident suffered facial lacerations and arm and torso wounds. She underwent three surgeries. The resident sustained permanent scars, recurring pain and numbness, and mobility limitations. The employee suffered unspecified injuries. The cases were consolidated. Their lawsuits alleged that the facility owner’s failure to control her dog caused their injuries. Following a bench trial, the resident received $717,851, while the employee received $41,709.
- 2019, P.G. County: $45,000 Verdict. A woman was bit by a Rottweiler in her thigh and lower leg. She hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit alleging the owner knew of the dog's aggressive tendencies yet still failed to keep the dog on a leash. The jury awarded $25,000 in medical bills but only $20,000 in pain and suffering for a total of $45,000.
- 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 her 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 the 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 the plaintiff's hand. He goes to Prince George’s Hospital where he requires surgery. He hires a Maryland dog bite lawyer who files a lawsuit, alleging negligence and strict liability - the 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 dog was responsible for the bite. The Prince George's County jury awarded $70,000 to the plaintiff.
- 2011, Upper Marlboro: $110,000 Verdict. A mailman is on the job and delivering a parcel to the 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 and future 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.
The median dog bite verdict in Maryland is $24,600. There are no average settlement statistics published. Our law firm's average dog bite settlement in Maryland is around $175,000. Of course, that tells you nothing about the settlement compensation you can expect in your case but it gives you some idea of the ranges of dog bite payouts. Also keep in mind some dog bite cases involving serious, permanent injuries can have a much higher value than this estimated average settlement.
Also, remember our law firm only handles larger dog bite cases which might inflate our average case value.
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 victims believe. You would be amazed at how broad these policies are when it comes to dog bite cases.
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 dog bite lawsuits in Maryland 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.
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, you have a reasonable expectation the dog will not bite you.
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.
In April 2014, the Maryland legislature passed a "breed neutral" law that effectively eliminates the so-called "one-bite" rule. (Actually, we never truly had a one-bite rule law but it was close enough that many lawyers referred to it as such.) 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 -- Maryland Cts & Jud Pro Code § 3-1901.2 -- 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.
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.
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 how the authorities treat the dog.
When you are suing someone for a dog bite in Maryland, you do not specify an amount if you are suing for more than $30,000 (or in some cases, $75,000 for reasons not worth getting into that related to federal jurisdiction). So you are asking for whatever compensation the court or jury deems appropriate (subject to Maryland's damages cap that would be applied to a dog bite lawsuit).
As soon as possible, even before you call a lawyer, 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.
In some cases, dog bite attorneys need an expert witness to testify about the behavior of the dog. These are some of the dog bite expert witnesses who have testified in other dog bite lawsuits:
- Ron Berman (dog behavior)
- Richard Polsky (dog behavior and nature of dog bites)
- Cheryl Carlson (dog behavior)
- John Ciribassi (veterinarian/dog behavior)
- Stephen Spector (trauma of a dog bite)
Call Us Maryland Dog Bite Lawyer
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 our personal injury lawyers at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.Maryland Dog Bite Law
Below are some of the key Maryland appellate opinions that form Maryland dog bite law.
- Moore v. Myers, 161 Md. App. 349 (2005). A 12-year-old hit by a car fleeing a dog that was unleashed, in violation of Prince George's County Code cited below. The court reversed a summary judgment finding for the defendant, finding that animal control laws are designed to protect the public from a wide range of risks of roaming animals.
- Shields v. Wagman, 714 A.2d 881 (1998). Can you sue your landlord in a dog bite case? This Prince George's County dog bite case lays out the four factors the victim must prove to bring a lawsuit in Maryland against the landlord: (1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury; (2) that the defendant breached the duty; (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss; and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant's breach of the duty.
- Slack v. Villari, 476 A. 2d 227 (1984). Another Prince George's County lawsuit in which a Clinton woman was injured when a dog jumped at her as she walked by the dog owners' house. The court found that no leash laws were broken and the owner was not strictly liable because the dog had no propensity to jump up at people who walked past their house.
These are some relevant Maryland dog bite statutes and codes:
- Maryland Cts & Jud Pro Code § 3-1901.2: new law that overturned the Maryland Court of Appeals' holding in Tracey. This law created a greater liability for owners than existed after the Tracey decision or even at common law
- Prince George's County Code § 3-135(c): provides that an “owner” of an animal running at large is strictly liable for any damages caused by the animal. [The P.G. County Code's definition of “owner” includes any person who “keeps or harbors an animal.” Prince George's County Code § 3-101(a)(57).)]
- Montgomery County Code, Sec. 5-203(a)(7): leash law for Montgomery County