In 2022, for the first time in history, insurance companies paid more than $1 billion to settle dog bite claims. Pandemic puppies of various dog breeds may be responsible for much of this increase. 

During coronavirus lockdowns, many people needed emotional support animals. So, they bought or adopted playful puppies. These playful pups grew up in isolation. By 2022, these playful puppies had grown into aggressive dogs who weren’t used to people. These dogs are normally tame and well-behaved. Sometimes, however, they lash out violently and unpredictably.

Usually, animal attack victims have legal options, but as outlined below, Maryland dog bite law is extremely complex.

Animal attack injury claims have lots of moving parts. So, a Maryland dog bite lawyer must diligently put these claims together, starting with the medical issues in the case. A subsequent investigation usually determines the victim’s legal alternatives. Dog bite attorneys in Maryland must build a case that’s strong enough to withstand some common insurance company defenses. Only this combination ensures maximum compensation for serious injuries.

Animal Attack Injuries

Most animal attack victims are small children and most attacking animals are large, protective animals, like bulldogs, German shepherds, and pitbulls. So, the dog is often much physically larger than the victim. As a result, animal attack injuries come in waves.

Initial Physical Injuries

When attacking animals lunge at victims and knock them down, the Maryland dog bite victim often sustains broken bones and a head injury.

The sheer weight and force of the animal often crushes the victim’s bones. Therefore, doctors must surgically reconstruct them using metal parts, like pins and plates. The more aggressive surgery leads to higher medical costs, a longer recovery time, and more extensive physical therapy. 

dog bite initial physical injuries

 

Despite all these medical efforts, broken bones are usually permanent. If Billy breaks his shoulder during an animal attack, he might permanently lose range of motion in that shoulder. He’s also more vulnerable to future shoulder injuries.

The aforementioned weight and force often causes head injuries as well. Contrary to popular myth, the brain doesn’t fit snugly in the skull, like a hand in a glove. Instead, a child’s skull is like a water tank that suspends the brain in cerebrospinal fluid. When these victims fall, their brains slam against the inside of their skulls.

A dog bite, or more specifically, the extreme stress of a dog bite, also changes the brain’s chemical composition. More on that below.

Subsequent Physical Dog Bite Injury

During a dog bite, the animal’s sharp teeth usually cause severe skin lacerations as well as deep puncture wounds.

Tearing lacerations usually require long-term treatment in a specialty trauma center. Doctors perform multiple surgical procedures to reconstruct the damaged area. Even then, physical scars usually remain. These dog bite scars are hard for victims to live with, especially if the scar is on the face or another visible area of the body.

Deep puncture wounds penetrate skin, and usually internal organs as well. The resulting internal bleeding is very difficult to diagnose and treat. This kind of bleeding is small and steady. Since internal organs have no protective skin layer, a pin prick injury could cause steady bleeding. The source of this bleeding is hard to see since the blood obfuscates a diagnostic image. 

As a result, most animal attack victims require massive blood transfusions to keep them out of hypovolemic shock and organ shutdown.

Psychological Dog Bite Injury and Maryland Law

We mentioned chemical changes in the brain above. Stress enlarges the amygdala and shrinks the hippocampus. Emotional responses are controlled by the amygdala, and logical responses are controlled by the hippocampus.

The delicate amygdala/hippocampus balance is like a bucking bronco (amygdala) and a cowboy (hippocampus). If the cowboy grips the reins tightly, he can somewhat control the bronco. But if his grip loosens even slightly, the horse runs wild.

Inside the brain, when the amygdala breaks free from the hippocampus, the victim experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms like: 

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Hypervigilance , which in this case is an unnatural fear of all dogs
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares

Child dog bite victims are especially susceptible to animal attack-related PTSD. The direct and indirect effects of PTSD make life very difficult for children. If Sally has nightmares, she doesn’t sleep well. So, she’s extremely drowsy the next day at school.

Childhood PTSD is also very difficult to treat. PTSD therapy is usually geared toward adults. Most children cannot tolerate powerful PTSD antidepressants and other drugs.

Animal attacks may cause PTSD to children

Indirect (Dog Bite Infection Injuries)

Unfortunately, the risk of personal injury doesn’t end at the scene of the dog bite attack. These wounds have very high infection rates.

Bacterial infections often hit patients suddenly and without warning. Very few of these victims have red flags in their medical backgrounds. Furthermore, as they recover from surgery, many victims are only semi-conscious. So, they can’t tell doctors what is wrong. Finally, many surgical teams drop their guard ever so slightly when victims emerge from surgery.

Bacterial infections spread quickly and often are life threatening, especially if the victim has a pre-existing medical or other condition.

Usually, a Baltimore personal injury lawyer must file a separate claim against the doctor, hospital, or other care provider to obtain compensation for infection-related losses. Sometimes, a defective product causes a bacterial infection. These cases are even more complex.

What Maryland Dog Bite Attorneys Do

A good Maryland dog bite lawyer always puts first things first. After a serious dog bite, the victim’s medical well-being is the immediate priority. 

Many group health insurance plans exclude injury-related costs. Even if these costs are covered, the victim must normally see a general practice doctor who may not be fully qualified to diagnose and treat animal attack injuries.

A Baltimore personal injury lawyer connects dog bite victims with top-shelf doctors who know how to diagnose and treat these complex injuries. Normally, these doctors don’t charge any money upfront for their services.

Additionally, a Maryland dog bite lawyer runs interference with the insurance company. Adjusters usually begin harassing victims a few hours after dog bites occur. They demand information and present settlement offers.

Once a dog attack victim partners with a lawyer, the insurance company must legally communicate with the lawyer, and no one else. So instead of squabbling with adjusters, victims and their families can simply concentrate on getting better.

Finally, dog bite attorneys put together the factual and legal pieces of dog bite cases in Maryland. A strong case usually means compensation for economic losses, such as medical costs, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.

Finding the Right Maryland Dog Bite Lawyer

Not all doctors can handle complex dog bite injuries. Likewise, not every dog bite injury attorneys can handle complex dog bite cases in Maryland. Your attorney should have the following qualities:

  • Accessible: As dog attack victims recover from serious dog bite injuries, everyday activities become Herculean tasks. Driving back and forth to see a lawyer might be an all-day affair. So, your dog bite attorneys in Maryland should be physically accessible. Professional accessibility, which really means professional responsibility, is important as well. If a non-lawyer assistant does most of the work on your case, that’s a bad sign.
  • Dedicated: Many dog attack attorneys take on a handful of personal injury cases, mostly for existing clients, friends, and family. The lawyer who drew up your will may be unable to handle a dog bite case. If your chest hurts, you should see a pulmonologist, not an orthopedic doctor.
  • Experienced: Years of experience are critical. Dog attack lawyers develop proven methods over the years. However, years of experience can also be deceptive. A losing basketball team that returns all five starters is an experienced losing team. So, when you speak to a dog bite lawyer, focus on results the lawyer has achieved.

As you search for a Baltimore dog bites lawyer, remember that the statute of limitations in these cases is two years. That sounds like a long time. However, these cases are so complex, as outlined below, that the months pass quickly.

Maryland Dog Bites Liability Law

Millions of people own pets. These people have rights, just like victims have rights. Maryland’s dog bite liability law balances the interests of these two groups, or at least it tries to balance them.

Strict Liability Dog Bite Lawsuit

Maryland dog bite laws include a strict liability law. A dog owner could be strictly liable for the aforementioned damages. However, Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Section 3-1901 is rather oddly worded and contains two primary provisions.

First, according to Subsection (a)(1), “evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.” 

The dog owner could rebut that strictly liable presumption in some cases. In some matters we’ve handled, a dog attacked a victim almost literally as the dog owner brought the animal home from a shelter. If the dog owner robust the knowledge presumption, a Baltimore dog bites injury lawyer must introduce additional evidence on this point.

Strict Liability Dog Bite Lawsuit

Additionally, under Subsection (c), “The owner of a dog is liable for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, while the dog is running at large.” This section is much broader. “Running at large” usually means off a leash and outside a fenced area.

Some exceptions apply. The dog owner isn’t liable if the injured party provoked the animal or if the victim was a trespasser. These phrases have very specific meanings we’ll discuss below.

In this area, broad laws aren’t necessarily good for victims. As mentioned, many jurors are also dog owners. Frequently, as far as a dog’s owner is concerned, strong strict liability laws unfairly penalize owners who rescue animals with violent pasts.

Scienter (One Bite Rule) Dog Bite Lawsuits

This Latin word means “knowledge.” This doctrine is known as the one bite rule because, according to Maryland law, a dog’s owner cannot be legally responsible for injuries that were not foreseeable (possible) from their perspective.

Owners are legally responsible for dog bite injuries if they knew the animal was potentially dangerous. Evidence on this point normally includes pre-dog attacks behavior, such as:

  • Loud barking
  • Vicious snarling
  • Baring of teeth
  • Aggressive lunging

Additional evidence may be admissible to prove the dog owner’s knowledge as well, such as previous attacks of people or even other animals.

The burden of proof in a scienter case, or in the aforementioned knowledge presumption strict liability cases, is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Therefore, a thorough investigation usually yields more than enough evidence to hold a dog owner liable for damages.

Ordinary Negligence Dog Bite Lawsuits

According to Maryland’s dog bite laws, ordinary negligence is a lack of care. Most property owners, including dog owners, have a duty of reasonable care. They must immediately address and remove injury hazards, such as a vicious dog.

These responsibilities apply if the victim was an invitee or a person who had the dog owner’s permission to visit the property and whose presence benefited the owner, either financially or non-financially.

A dog owner has a lower duty of care if the dog bites victim was a licensee (permission but no benefit). A guest of an apartment tenant is usually a licensee.

No legal duty protects trespassers (no permission and no benefit) in a dog bite incident, as mentioned above. A burglar is a trespasser. Some legal doctrines, like the attractive nuisance rule, protects some child trespasser victims in some cases.

Sometimes, these categories overlap. Assume Sally invited Fred to a party. When Sally turned her back, Fred stole some pills from her medicine cabinet, and Fido attacked him. When he walked in the door, Fred was an invitee. But at the time of the dog bite, Fred was a trespasser.

Non-owners also have a duty of care. A teacher who allows children to play near a strange dog is probably negligent. In this case, the school district or other entity that employed the teacher is most likely financially responsible for damages, under the respondeat superior doctrine.

Negligence Per Se and Dog Bites

Negligence Per Se and Dog Bites

Most municipalities in the Baltimore area have animal restraint laws, such as fence laws and leash laws. If a violation of a safety ordinance, statute, or rule substantially caused injury, the dog’s owner might be liable for damages as a matter of law.

In many cases, a Maryland dog bite lawyer doesn’t use the negligence per se doctrine in these cases. Instead, they use the “running at large” strict liability dog bite law, which was mentioned above.

However, also as mentioned above, many dog owners believe strict liability laws are harsh. But even pet owner jurors typically agree that an owner who doesn’t follow the law and doesn’t restrain a dangerous dog is an irresponsible owner.

Landlord Liability for Dog Bites in Maryland

We discussed a dog owner’s duty of care above. Landlords have a similar duty of care in Maryland, at least with regard to common areas. This duty requires landlords to address and remove injury hazards, including dangerous dogs. 

This kind of dog bite lawsuit is increasingly common in Baltimore. Usually, a dog owner may walk a dog in a common areas, like lawns, sidewalks, and even playgrounds. 

Additionally, a landlord could be liable under a doctrine called negligent undertaking. Basically, negligent undertaking is starting something and not finishing it. 

Assume Lisa rents a house to Mary, who is a dog owner. Although the lease forbids tenants from owning large dogs, Lisa says nothing about Mary’s pit bull. If Mary’s dog bites someone, even if the animal showed no dangerous propensities, Lisa could be legally responsible for damages.

Possible Defenses in a Dog Bite Case

Provocation and assumption of the risk are the most common dog bite defenses. Assumption of the risk is only available in negligence cases.

Provocation Under Maryland Law

Maryland dog bite law narrowly defines “provocation” in this context. First, provocation is intentional. Victims cannot make loud noises, sudden movements, fearful gestures, or otherwise accidentally provoke a dog. Second, mere teasing is insufficient. Instead, dog bite provocation is more like assault self-defense. The defense applies if the dog proportionately responds to a physical threat. 

Assumption of the Risk in a Serious Injury Claim

Assumption of the risk, which is a form of comparative fault in Maryland, often arises if the dog owner puts up a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign.

Contrary to popular myth, such a sign is not a magic wand that eliminates the legal responsibility of the dog’s owner. The insurance company must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the victim:

  • Saw the sign,
  • Could read the sign, and
  • Could understand what the sign meant

Small children, who, as mentioned, are the most common animal attack victims, often cannot read signs. Even if they can read them, they often don’t understand words like “beware” or “caution.” That’s especially true if, as is usually the case, the sign contains only text and no picture graphic.

In a non-strict liability case, if the insurance company presents evidence of provocation or assumption of the risk, the jury must divide fault based on the evidence. That division might be 50-50, 80-20, or any other percentage proportion.

Maryland is a pure comparative fault state. Even if the victim is only 1 percent responsible for the injury, compensation is unavailable.

The Value of a Dog Bite Case

Maryland’s harsh comparative fault law significantly affects a dog bite claim’s settlement value. If the victim is clearly partially at fault for a dog bite injury, the settlement value is zero. This figure, like the sticker price of a new car, is the starting point for settlement negotiations. Over 95 percent of dog bite claims, and other civil cases settle out of court.

Most cases settle because trials are very uncertain. Regardless of the evidence and legal theories in the case, as outlined above, there’s no way to predict a jury’s conclusions. Agreed settlements give plaintiffs and defendants much more control over the outcome.

The Value of a Dog Bite Case

Additionally, out-of-court settlements in dog bite cases benefit victims specifically. These resolutions end cases sooner, so victims get their settlement checks sooner. Moreover, a settlement avoids an emotional courtroom showdown.

The settlement value of a dog bite case begins with economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages. Sometimes, Maryland dog bite attorneys partner with outside professionals, like doctors and accountants, to firmly establish these losses.

Settling a Dog Bite Case

Next, to determine the amount for pain and suffering, Maryland dog bite attorneys usually multiplies the medical bills, lost wages, and other economic losses by two, three, or four, mostly depending on the evidence in the case. Other factors include applicable legal theories, like strict liability and comparative fault, the victim’s eagerness to settle, and the insurance company’s motivation to settle.

Settlement negotiations begin in earnest after medical treatment is at least substantially complete. If a case settles earlier, the settlement might not fully account for all possible future medical bills. So, if a Maryland dog bite lawyer settles a case too early, the victim is most likely financially responsible for these costs.

A few dog bite cases settle during informal talks. Usually, the case settles during mediation. A third-party mediator ensures that both sides negotiate in good faith. A low-ball offer or a “final offer” is not a good faith negotiating position.

Partially because of the good faith negotiation duty and partially because of the settlement benefits mentioned above, mediation with a law firm is usually successful in Maryland.

Work With a Diligent Baltimore Lawyer

Insurance companies usually pay large settlements in dog bite cases. But most animal attack claims don’t settle quickly. To schedule a free consultation with the best dog bite attorneys in Maryland, please contact the Law Offices Alex Poberesky, P.A. at (410) 484-0400. Our law firm does not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.