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Legal Insights: Dog Bites

May 16, 2022

May 16, 2022

By Michael V. Nakamura, Co-Chair 

Medical Malpractice/Personal Injury Dept., Shulman Rogers 

Everyone will occasionally encounter another person’s dog. While most of these encounters are pleasant and happy experiences, sometimes there are interactions with aggressive dogs that lead to an unfortunate attack or bite incident. Under the law, there are specific statutes, regulations and cases that define when a dog owner is negligent and therefore responsible for damages if his or her dog attacks another person or dog.  In Maryland, there is also a specific law on injuries to pets.

When it comes to dog bite cases, a dog owner bears a duty to know the dog’s behavioral propensities, regardless of whether the dog has ever actually bitten a person or another dog.  Some dogs are fine around people, but not around other dogs.  Some dogs are territorial or protective and bare their teeth, snarl, growl and bark at and/or chase cars, kids, bicyclists or the mailman from behind a fence. These are clues to the dog owner if there is a repeat pattern of aggression, even if there is no bite incident.

Similar to other types of negligence cases, the owner is responsible based on the concept of “notice,” i.e., knowledge. Did the dog owner know, or should have known, of the dog’s aggressive or vicious propensities?  Based on this knowledge or imputed knowledge, the owner has a duty to prevent the dog from harming others.

To evaluate liability, an experienced attorney must conduct a detailed investigation.  There is often no prior bite history, but all of the warning signs were there.  There are witnesses, neighbors or others with knowledge of prior aggression, close calls or unreported attacks.  Sometimes a dog attack is the result of the violation of a number of statutes and regulations, ranging from leash laws to failing to control or muzzle an aggressive dog.  Other times, there is a prior bite or attack history on record.  All of the pertinent facts and information must be gathered to honestly and fully advise a client if there is a meritorious case.

Dog bite cases carry a primal fear factor, and most cause a visceral reaction among us.  The damage from a severe attack can be substantial and residual, including scarring and counseling for PTSD.  Proper detailed documentation of all damages, whether medical, emotional, visible or invisible, is essential to the case. Often the effects of a physical bite don’t last as long as the mental and emotional distress incurred.

Also a factor – some breeds are unfortunately considered dangerous under the law and by insurance companies.

 This is general overview and every case must be evaluated based on its own facts and circumstances and in relation to relevant codes, regulations and case law.

For a free consultation, please contact Mike directly at mnakamura@shulmanrogers.com, or 301-230-5255.  Mike represents clients in the areas of personal injury (including auto, motorcycle, trucking, bicycle and other types of transportation related accidents, dog bites, premises liability (slip and fall) and sexual abuse) and medical malpractice (including birth injury, surgical errors, delays and misdiagnoses of many conditions and tragic wrongful death cases.)