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Dog Bite Cases in Maryland and Virginia

Author: Portner & Shure

Dog Bite Cases in Maryland & Virginia

Dogs are one of the most common types of domesticated animals that people keep as pets. Sadly, these pets sometimes bite or attack innocent victims and inflict serious injuries in the process. Fortunately, the law supplies a remedy for the victims of dog bite attacks. Our attorneys at Portner & Shure deal with dog bite cases in Maryland and Virginia. We zealously represent our clients in order to compensate them for their economic and non-economic damages.

Maryland Law

Under Maryland Law, the owner of a dog may be liable for the dog’s actions. The facts and circumstances surrounding the attack are crucial to establishing an owner’s liability.

Recent Maryland Developments

Maryland previously adhered to the “one bite” rule. This rule made it difficult to hold dog owners liable, as the dog owner could claim they did not know of the violent nature of the dog. In a 2012 opinion, the Maryland Court of Appeals made an exception to this rule for pit bulls. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the inherently aggressive and violent nature of pit bulls warranted their exclusion from the “one bite” rule.

In 2014, the Maryland State legislature passed a law that eliminated the “one bite” rule. Under § 3-1901, it is rebuttably presumed that a dog owner knew or should have known that their dog was capable of violence. Stated more clearly,the new law eliminated any notice defense on the part of a dog owner.

Maryland Theories of Liability

A dog owner may be held liable under two different theories of liability. Under a theory of strict liability, a dog owner may be held liable if they knew or should have known of the violent nature of the animal. Stated more clearly, if a victim is able to prove that the dog had previously attacked another individual or had previously displayed numerous instances of aggressive tendencies such as growling or lunging, the owner is presumed to be negligent.

Alternatively, a dog owner may be held liable under a theory of negligence if they fail to effectively control a dog in a situation where it could be reasonably expected that an injury would occur. For example, if an unleashed dog with no history of violence is in a park or public place with their owner and suddenly attacks another individual, the owner may be negligent for failing to put the dog on a leash when taking it out.

Maryland Statutory Defenses

Under Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-1901, several defenses are available to dog owners. If the victim was trespassing on an owner’s property or committing a crime on the property, they are unlikely to have a viable claim against the dog owner. This is because the law provides minimal protections to trespassers. Additionally, under § 3-1901 a dog owner can assert provocation as a defense. Stated more clearly, if a victim provoked or abused the dog prior to the attack, they are unlikely to have a viable claim against the dog owner.

Virginia Law

Unlike Maryland, Virginia continues to adhere to the “one bite” rule. Under this rule, a dog owner is only liable if they knew their dog had aggressive tendencies. While the rule is harsh, there are exceptions.

Exception to the One Bite Rule

A dog owner is put on notice of a dog’s aggressive nature if it has killed or seriously harmed another animal or human. At that point, the dog is considered a dangerous animal. Assuming the dog attacks another individual, the victim then has a viable claim against the owner.

Negligence Per Se

Under Virginia Law, a dog owner is expected to maintain control over their dog. Accordingly, if a dog owner violates a leash or animal control law, the owner may be deemed to be negligent per se. Stated more clearly, if a dog owner violates an animal control law and their dog attacks someone, the law presumes the owner to be at fault.

Defenses Available Under Virginia Law

Virginia provides several defenses to dog owners. Like Maryland, Virginia allows dog owners to assert that the victim was trespassing on their property. Additionally, under the “one bite” rule, Virginia allows a dog owner to claim that they had no knowledge of the dog’s aggressive tendencies. Along with this, Virginia allows a dog owner to argue that they took reasonable care to prevent an attack. Reasonable measures include leashing the dog, installing a physical fence, or an invisible buried electronic fence.

Ownership and Location

With regards to ownership, Maryland law defines an owner as the person who actually owns the dog, along with landlords and property owners. This is a because landlords and property owners are essentially allowing a dog to remain on their property.

The location of an attack and the victim’s reason for being on a property are significant factors with regards to the viability of a dog bite claim. A victim who is attacked in a public area such as a park has a potential claim against an individual dog owner.

Similarly, a victim who is attacked while at a dog owner’s residence or business has potential claims against the dog owner and the property owner. However, the victim must have had permission to be on the property or else they will be deemed to be a trespasser, which precludes them from making a claim. An exception to the trespassing rule is if the victim is entering the property for business purposes or for the owner’s benefit, such as an individual delivering goods to property.

Why Hire Portner & Shure?

Dog bite case can be legally and factually complex. The laws surrounding dog bite cases vary drastically depending on the jurisdiction in which the attack occurs. Our attorneys at Portner & Shure will meticulously investigate the facts surrounding a dog attack, and the history of the dog and the dog owner. Additionally, Portner & Shure will thoroughly research the law in order to strengthen your dog bite case. This zealous advocacy recently resulted in Portner & Shure obtaining the maximum limits of a homeowner’s insurance policy on behalf of a dog bite victim via settlement.

Contact One of Our Capable Dog Bite Attorneys Today

Our attorneys at Portner & Shure have been successfully helping victims of serious injuries for over 20 years. All personal injury representation we provide is performed on a contingency fee basis. Stated more clearly, Portner & Shure receives no fee unless the victim obtains a settlement or judgement in court. To schedule a free consultation regarding your dog bite case, contact us at (855) 954-4141 or via our online message board.

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