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Maryland Dog Bite Law

Dog attack picture by Akshay Madan via Unsplash

As a dog owner, I appreciate the energy and happiness a dog can bring to a household. However, along with the benefits of dog ownership comes an enormous public safety responsibility. Unfortunately, our attorneys all too often see dog owners who do not take precautions to ensure that their pets will not present a danger to others. Especially with children, there is no room for error here.

Prior to 2014, Maryland applied the one-bite rule and negligence principles. The one bite rule helped someone who was the second bite victim of a particular dog to automatically prove the dog owner at fault. One bite and you're out. The victim then only needed to prove what injuries or damages he/she sustained from the attack/bite. What about dogs who bit for the first time? (i.e. or that animal control is aware of) In that case, general negligence principles apply. This means the victim is required to prove that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had dangerous propensities. In other words, you must show that there were red flags where the owner knew or should have known something like this could happen. Proving what someone else knows or should have known is clearly very challenging. You are forced to heavily rely on what the dog owner chooses reveal or not reveal and their truthfulness. A dog owner can claim ignorance that their pup is perfect and often circumvent responsibility.

Several county codes such as Prince George's and Anne Arundel County impose "leash laws" on their residents. This requires owners to prevent their dogs from running "at large" and they must be properly restrained. Violation of a leash law is evidence of negligence of a dog owner and by itself will likely not impose liability on a dog owner.

The law in the 2012 Court case Tracey v. Solesky imposed strict liability against pit bull owners and landlords by ruling that the pit bull breed was "inherently dangerous". This is why it is common to see pit bulls specifically excluded from permitted breeds within apartment complexes.

In 2014, the Maryland legislature realized the prior law didn't do enough.

First they reversed the ruling in Tracey stating that pitbulls are not inherently dangerous. More importantly, today, when a dog bites someone, even if it's for the first time, the law assumes that it had dangerous propensities. Now the dog owner must be the one to rebut that presumption with evidence by showing that he or she didn't know or should not have known the dog could present a danger. A dog owner cannot expect to win merely by getting on the stand and claiming ignorance. This encourages the policy that dog owners should properly train and restrain their pets when appropriate, and if they aren't sure, don't guess by putting someone else at risk.

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