Dog Bite Lawyer in Baltimore, MD
The city of Baltimore has a strict liability law when it comes to dog bites and other dog-attack related injuries. In a case where the attacking dog was at large when the incident took place, or when the dog owner fails to prove that he or she neither knew or should have known that the dog was vicious or dangerous, the city will allow victims to file claims on legal principles such as negligence. However, the state, as a whole, adheres to the ancient and somewhat harsh doctrine of contributory negligence when dealing with dog bites in Baltimore. This does not allow for a victim of a dog bite to recover if his or her own actions contributed even one percent to the cause of the incident. An experienced dog bite lawyer can help you review the relevant laws and how they may apply to your case.
Overview of the Laws Regarding Dog Bites in Baltimore
Before 2014, the city applied the one-bite rule along with negligence principles. Such incidents that involved pit bulls between 2012 and 2014 were governed by the case, Tracey v. Solesky. As a result of the case, strict tort liability was imposed on pit bull owners and landlords. On and after April 8, 2014, the state of Maryland imposed limited statutory strict liability on all dog owners.
Statutory Strict Liability for Dog Owners:
Under subsection (a) of Courts & Judicial Proceedings, strict liability is imposed unless a dog owner can prove that he or she didn’t know or should not have known that the dog had dangerous inclinations. Furthermore, under subsection (c), strict liability is imposed for any loss, injury, or death of a person or to a property that is caused by a dog that is at large, unless the victim was committing a criminal offense or trespassing. Also, under subsection (d), the victim is entitled to base the claim on negligence or any other statutory causes or common law.
Dog bite laws in Baltimore fall under the state of Maryland’s statutory strict liability, as set out above. Under the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code, section 3-1901, when a person is injured with a dog bite, via negligence, he or she is entitled to base the claim on the doctrine of negligence. For example, a dog that is unaccustomed to children encounters small children in a daycare center would be considered negligent. And, if the dog were to bite a child, the child or parental guardians of the child can seek monetary compensation under to doctrine of negligence with the assistance of a dog bite lawyer.
Under the statute of negligence per se, Baltimore has a law requiring that dogs be on lead and are prohibited from trespassing or being at large. Violations of such law can lead to the basis of a liability claim, which constitutes evidence of negligence if a dog bites a person.
As for common law strict liability, a victim is required to prove that there are traditional elements for dog bite liability present. For example, it must be proved that the owner of the dog either knew or should have known that the dog was potentially dangerous or had the propensity to bite people. For example, in the case of Hamilton v. Smith, the court established that the owner of three dogs that attacked a young boy had actual knowledge of the dog’s vicious tendencies. The court upheld that there were three elements that had to be proven against the defendant to show negligence: owning the dogs; vicious tendencies in the animal; with knowledge of such tendencies.
Knowledge of dangerous propensities can typically be proved with circumstantial evidence that supposes knowledge of the dog’s proclivity to violence on the part of the owner. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. Typically, it only must be shown that the owner had knowledge of the vicious inclinations possessed by the canine, requiring the owner to anticipate the conduct or actions of the dog. It is important to note that knowledge of dangerous propensities in an animal’s behavior is not implied if it is solely based on the breed of the animal.
What About Landlord Liability?
In a case where a landlord leases out a separate portion of his property to a tenant and reserves under his or her control the stairways and passageways, and any other parts of the property for common use, it is up to the landlord to exercise diligence and care to look after the retained portions and keep them in a reasonably safe condition. The duty to take care of the areas and keep them in a reasonably safe condition further extends to the tenant and members of their family, guests, and others on the property. In instance of dangerous conditions, where the landlord agrees to rectify the conditions and fails to do so, he or she may be held liable for any injuries caused as a result.
Baltimore’s doctrine of strict liability is applicable to cases that involve pit bulls homed on leased premises.
The One Bite Rule in Dog Bite Law
While this all may seem somewhat confusing, there is an easier way to understanding the dog bite law when it comes to “knowledge.” Let us consider the one bite rule. According to the rule, prior to a dog biting someone one time, it is considered that the owner may not have had the requisite knowledge to be liable for the dog’s action. Unlike other states in the U.S., Maryland, and therefore Baltimore, does not have dog bite statutes that make exceptions to this one bite rule.
Previously, a distinction was made between bites from wild animal and bites from dogs. The courts viewed wild animals and inherently dangerous, and therefore owners were automatically on notice that wild animals were considered dangerous to human beings. As a result, and contrary to dog bites, people who were victims of wild animal bites were not required to prove that the wild animal was fierce or that the owner had knowledge of such.
Previous Dog Bite Laws in Baltimore that Affected Pit Bulls Owners
Earlier in this piece, we mentioned the case of Tracey v. Solesky which took place in 2012. During the case, the court implemented an exception to the proof requirement in dog bite cases in the city. In particular, the court excluded pit bulls from the dog bite rules in general. The court, rather, found that pit bulls are considered inherently dangerous. So, in order to succeed in a pit bull case in the city, victims are no longer required to prove that a pit bull breed is dangerous. Essentially, the court adjusted the element of proof from knowledge that any particular dog is dangerous, to knowledge that a dog is a pit bull.
This is a drastic change to the dog bite laws in the city; however, the court reasoned that the foreseeability in pit bull bite cases tends to be clear and that the extreme dangerous of the breed is widely recognized. Furthermore, the court indicated that pit bulls are known to be extremely aggressive as a breed and have typically been bred to be attack animals. The court highlighted the fact that pit bulls have the tendency to bite and even kill without warning or signal, and are selectively bred to have especially powerful jaws, extreme aggressiveness, and the breed has a high insensitivity to pain along with a natural propensity to refuse to stop attacking once started. The court also ruled that pit bulls have a greater propensity to bite people than any other dog breed.
While this is distressing to pit bull owners in the city, the court further went on to reason that the breed must be treated differently in dog bite cases. The reasons for this include:
- A pit bull has a capacity for vicious attacks, an unpredictable nature, and an especially savage behavior;
- The breed’s jaw is able to crush human flesh and bone with as much as two thousand pounds of pressure per square inch;
- Recent studies show that the breed was involved in about a third of human attacks over a nine-year period;
- During a six-year period, 32 known human deaths in the country were due to dog attacks, 23 of which were caused by pit bulls;
- Pit bulls are typically stronger than other breeds and less willing to retreat when attacking due to the higher pain tolerance;
- Pit bull attacks had a tendency to occur more often and are more severe, which means they are more likely to lead to fatalities;
- A court in Minnesota has previously considered the breed a “weapon”
Essentially, the court took it upon itself to put measures in place to prevent future harm to the public in instances of dog bites by separating the general class of dogs from pit bulls. While this may be distressing for pit bull owners in the city, advocates of the breed will ask that legislature consider factors such as size, training, the dog’s gender, socialization, and the dog’s owner when judging the breed’s violent propensities. However, there have been recent changes to the dog bite laws that you should discuss with your dog bite lawyer.
Changes to Baltimore Dog Bite Law Now Benefit Pit Bull Owners
As recently as April 2014, Governor O’Malley approved and signed a new law that deals with how injuries that are caused by dog bites are to be handled in the city. To gain a full understanding of the changes in the law, we have to look at why the legislature changed the law to begin with. To put it simply, the frequency of serious pit bull attacks sparked such change.
The Tracey v. Solesky case of 2012 saw the highest court in the state change the older dog bite common law as it previously applied to pit bull mixes and pit bull breeds. The mauling that occurred in that case was indeed horrendous and the victims were children. The law looked at how powerful pit bulls are, however, with the recent changes, the same standards now apply to all breeds of dogs. Owners are considered strictly responsible for the behavior of an animal and are required to prove that the dog, no matter what breed it is, is not dangerous.
Under earlier law, the owner of a dog was not considered liable for injuries caused by the animal unless it could be shown by the victim that the dog is vicious and that the owner knew of the dog’s viciousness before the attack or bite occurred. During the Tracey case, the court changed the rule to apply to pit bulls and such mixes, and ruled that where a pit bull or such mix caused the injury and the owner or landlord had knowledge or reason to have knowledge that the dog was such breed, the owner or landlord would be held strictly liable. Under that law, pit bull liability was considered automatic and it did not matter if the owner or landlord knew or should have had such knowledge of the dog’s propensities. As mentioned, the ruling outraged pit bull owners and advocates. Therefore, the legislature took the decision to change the law once again and reversed the court ruling. Now, the new and current law is a compromise between the two extremes and now applies to all dog breeds. According to the changes, the law states that if the injured person is able to show that the dog cause the injury, the owner will be held liable. But, owners of dogs now have the opportunity to prove that they were not aware or had any reason to be aware that the dog was vicious or dangerous.
Need a Dog Bite Attorney in Baltimore, MD?
If you have been injured by a canine attack, the experienced Baltimore dog bite lawyers at Ashcroft & Gerel, LLP, can help with your case by protecting your rights and will assist you in recovering compensation after the incident. Call today to schedule a complimentary consultation with a skilled member of our dedicated dog bite attorneys.