Those huge, brown eyes; that cute, wagging tail; those… impressively sharp teeth. Your sweet pup, Cujo, is your best friend, but he also sports a mouthful of weapons that can get you both in trouble if you’re not careful. Because what if your dog bites someone? You could find yourself the defendant in a big, hairy (fluffy?) lawsuit.
Here’s what you need to know about dog bite laws in Maryland.
Strict Liability in Maryland
Too bad you and Cujo can’t climb in a time machine and return to the way the law worked before 2014. Back in those golden dog-owning days, Maryland followed the old rule, “the first bite’s for free”— meaning, if your bundle of canine joy had never bitten anyone before, it was not foreseeable that he would, and you couldn’t be held legally responsible. All that changed with the enactment of a new law in 2014.
The new law made Maryland a “statutory strict liability” state. This means that if your dog is running loose and kills or injures someone, the law presumes the owner knew — or should have known — that dear Cujo had vicious or dangerous propensities. Although that “rebuttable presumption” can be overcome, it could be a challenge. In other words, that first bite’s not free anymore.
What Are My Defense Options?
There’s good news, though. Strict liability is not the final word in dog bite cases, as there are some circumstances that will provide you an out if your dog hurts someone.
Trespassing – Did Gladys Kravitz sneak onto your property to peek in your windows and get some juicy gossip? Trespassing on your property is a no-no; your dog can jump in to defend your privacy.
Criminal offenses – Did Ned Flanders drop by to bop you in the nose because Cujo chewed up his copy of the Springfield Shopper? Assault is a criminal offense, and committing—or even attempting to commit—a crime against any person on your property makes the miscreant subject to the Wrath of Canine.
Teasing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog – Did Eric Cartman jump the fence and start poking sticks at your furry best friend? A dog who is sufficiently provoked has a right to defend himself.
Contributory negligence – Maryland is a contributory negligence state. This means that if the person your dog bit contributed even slightly to the injury, that person can’t recover damages (money) from you. Time to look for holes in your victim’s story.
How Do I Win?
If the injury took place on your own property, it’ll be somewhat easier to prove Cujo’s innocence. The dog bite victim needs to have a legally valid reason to be on your property if he’s going to win. If your dog was out running loose, it won’t be easy to rebut the presumption that you knew he was dangerous. Your best bet is hiring an attorney who understands phrases like “rebuttable presumption” and “strict liability” so you don’t lose your shirt along with your tail-wagging pal.