This page is about Maryland dog bite lawsuits. Our lawyers have settled and won at trial millions of dollars for dog bite victims. Here, we talk about
- these injuries,
- the best path to get compensation and
- typical settlement amounts and jury payouts in cases where victims have suffered injuries due to dog bites
If you are attacked and bitten by a dog in Maryland, you can – at least in most cases – file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner and get financial compensation. In many cases, the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance will cover the damages and pay any dog bite settlement. Let’s drill down on these issues.
Dog Bites Cause Serious Injuries
Dog bites can cause severe 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 2023. According to the CDC, an astounding 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Over 1,100 people go to the emergency room daily for dog bite injuries. As a country, we spend $1.1 billion a year in medical costs from animal attacks. More Americans die in animal attacks than by terrorism (but neither is 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 Amounts 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, 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 not go away that Maryland is a one-bite state. This means that if the dog has never bitten anyone, there is no liability for the dog owner. People often make up what they think Maryland dog bite laws. 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, Maryland law allowed for strict liability for some breeds of dogs because they are known to be 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 to the owner’s knowledge of the animal’s propensities to cause harm. Maryland law now expands liability because it provides that same demanding standard imposed on pit bulls to all dogs.
Often, the best way to truly understand 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
Insurance Company Defenses in Dog Bite Lawsuits
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, getting to a reasonable settlement without a trial is almost invariably a battle.
How to Calculate Dog Bite Settlement Amounts and Jury Payouts in Baltimore
Maryland dog bite cases present unique challenges when it comes to determining settlements and jury payouts. It is not easy to value any personal injury claim and dog bite lawsuits are harder than most personal injury cases to calculate settlement amounts. These cases often involve intricate assessments and negotiations conducted by insurance adjusters, lawyers, and, in some instances, juries.
At the forefront of the settlement process are insurance adjusters. Their role begins with a thorough evaluation of the claim, delving into the details of the incident, the dog’s history, and the severity of the victim’s injuries. A significant portion of their assessment revolves around the victim’s medical expenses, encompassing everything from immediate emergency care to potential long-term treatment costs. Moreover, adjusters consider lost wages and any impact on the victim’s future earning capacity.
They tend to drill down on economic costs and look past non-economic damages like pain and suffering. It is not that insurance adjusters do not place a compensation amount on pain and suffering. But they do it in an unsophisticated way that skews against victims.
Lawyers defending dog bite lawsuits do not have the same luxury as insurance adjusters. They have to try the case in front of a jury. So they cannot be as tough as an insurance adjuster can be as an armchair quarterback.
To calculate what they think the settlement amount should be, defense attorneys gather comprehensive evidence, including medical records, eyewitness accounts, and expert opinions, to build a robust case. Plaintiff’s lawyers like us are active negotiations with insurance adjusters, striving to secure a (more than) fair settlement payout for their our clients. They leverage their legal expertise and precedents from similar cases to justify the compensation demanded.
When settlement negotiations fail, we have a trial. This is the minority of dog bite lawyers our law firm handles. But when the insurance company cannot be brought around to our lawyers way of thinking, the case may escalate to a trial.
Juries are tasked with evaluating all presented evidence, which includes scrutinizing the nature of the injury and the circumstances under which the attack occurred. The starting point, of course, is determining the liability of the dog owner or other defendant.
Should the jury find in favor of the plaintiff, they then embark on the complex process of determining the appropriate amount of damages. This includes not only reimbursement for medical expenses and lost wages but also compensation for pain and suffering.
Good Cases Equal High Value
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, devitalized tissue from the dog’s teeth and tears, avulsions, and lacerations from the strength of the bite. These types of dog bite lawsuits result in higher settlement compensation payouts.
Sample Dog Bite Settlements and Verdicts
Another way to better understand the settlement value of dog bite cases in Maryland is to look at sample settlements and verdicts. You can’t calculate an average payout by examining sample verdicts and settlements. But they give you a better idea of the range of settlement compensation values by looking at some fairly typical dog bite settlements and verdicts.
- 2022, Baltimore: $133,322 Verdict. The plaintiff lived next to the defendants in adjoining row homes in Baltimore City, separated by a narrow alleyway and a rear concrete pad accessible through gates. The defendants owned a large German Shepherd, which they frequently allowed to roam in the alleyway. As the plaintiff was heading to her car parked on the concrete pad, the defendant’s dog, unleashed in the alleyway, bit her on the leg. This incident resulted in several puncture wounds requiring medical treatment.
- 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. The resident received $717,851 following a bench trial, while the employee received $41,709.
- 2019, P.G. County: $45,000 Verdict. A Rottweiler bit a woman 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 and $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 a neighbor’s pit bull mauls her. The dog had escaped from a nearby house and caused permanent dog bite injuries to the young girl’s face, arm, and leg. The plaintiff claims that the defendant failed to control her animal and keep it on her own property. The defendant denied liability. The incident occurred after the Court of Appeals’ decision in Tracey v. Solesky declared pit bulls inherently dangerous, holding their owners strictly liable for any injuries caused. This case is considered the first to proceed to trial from that period. The Baltimore City jury awarded only a $27,619 payout.
- 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. The 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.
FAQs – DOG BITE LIABILITY
Also, remember our law firm only handles larger dog bite cases, which might inflate our average case value.
Who Pays a Settlement if I Sue a Dog Owner for My Injuries?
The dog owner’s insurance usually pays for any settlement. Homeowners and some renters’ insurance policies will cover strict liability and negligence in dog bite cases in Maryland. This holds even if the dog is not on the homeowner’s property. Homeowner’s insurance policies are much more expansive than insureds and victims believe. You would be amazed at how broad these policies are regarding dog bite cases.
What if the Dog Owner Has No Insurance?
The claim is far more problematic if the dog owner has no insurance. Most people with 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 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 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.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Maryland?
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 so you are clear on your filing deadline. Because that statute of limitations deadline is firm. After it passes, you have no further rights, no matter how viable your claim may be.
What Is the 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. (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 of causing 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.
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 must consider whether bringing a claim will sabotage critical relationships in your life.
But our law firm almost invariably brings 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 to sue 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 how the authorities treat the dog.
How Much Can You Sue for a Dog Bite?
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).
What Should I Do Before I Talk to a Dog Bite Lawyer?
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.
Do You Need an Expert Witness in a Dog Bite Case?
In some cases, dog bite attorneys need an expert witness to testify about the dog’s behavior. 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)
Maryland Dog Bite Court Opinions
Below are some key Maryland appellate opinions that form Maryland dog bite law.
- Blitzer v. Breski, (2023). The case involved a plaintiff bitten by a dog while the animal was “running at large” under §3-1901 of the Maryland Code. This law imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their dogs in such circumstances, barring exceptions like trespassing or provoking the dog. The incident occurred when the plaintiff was exiting her home and was bitten by an unleashed dog in an alleyway, leading to severe injuries and lasting physical and psychological effects. The appellate court’s decision hinged on the interpretation of “running at large.” The court found that the dog was indeed running at large during the incident, thus justifying the jury’s award.
- Latz v. Parr (2017). In this unreported opinion, the court faced the issue of who really owns a dog. The case revolved around a two-and-a-half-year-old dog adopted by a couple, where the dog often stayed with one partner in New Jersey. The dog entered a nearby resident’s home, causing injuries. The trial court dismissed the claim on the second day of the trial. On appeal, the court grappled with defining “owner” under Maryland’s dog bite law, which lacked clarity in its language regarding “owners,” “harborers,” or “keepers.” The appellate court concluded, correctly the opinion of our dog bite lawyers, that the definition of “owner” could extend to individuals who keep or harbor dogs. So it is a jury question.
- Moore v. Myers, 161 Md. App. 349 (2005). A 12-year-old was 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.
- Moura v. Randall (1998): This landmark decision by the Maryland Supreme Court in this Montgomery County case established that dog owners may be found negligent and thus liable if they don’t take adequate measures to prevent their dogs from biting individuals. This responsibility encompasses ensuring dogs are restrained by a leash or confined within a fenced area and that they are appropriately trained.
These are some relevant Maryland dog bite statutes and codes:
- Maryland Cts & Jud Pro Code § 3-1901.2: New law overturning 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
Call a Maryland Dog Bite Lawyer
Our firm handles severe 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.