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Dog Attacks: What Are Your Legal Rights?

If you’ve ever been attacked by a dog, you know what a traumatic experience it can be. These attacks can sometimes end in tragedy. Take, for example, the recent news story about a couple in San Antonio whose American Staffordshire Terrier killed an elderly man and injured several other people. Even if you escape a dog attack without any injuries, the emotional impact of the experience can remain with you for a long time.

If you’re bitten or attacked by a dog, you might also be wondering if you’re liable for compensation. Let’s break down what can be done from a legal standpoint, as well as the steps you should take after the attack.

Who is Liable for a Dog Attack?

The rules vary from state to state (and sometimes from county to county). But for the most part, all dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that their dog doesn’t present a threat to other people or domestic animals. 

The severity of a case against a dog owner depends on the severity of the attack, as well as if the dog is considered dangerous. Dangerous dogs are subject to more stringent regulations regarding their care; they can’t be left alone for more than a certain amount of time, and there are restrictions on where they can go in public. Pit bulls, for example, are classified as dangerous dogs in some counties in Maryland, and their owners need to follow different requirements than for other breeds. In the case of the San Antonio couple mentioned above, evidence has emerged that they trained their dogs to be violent, and that they didn’t adhere to Animal Control Services rules regarding keeping them leashed. As a result, the couple is facing criminal charges.

In some cases, landlords may be held liable for dog attacks if they occur on their property and the landlord is aware that the dog is dangerous.

When are Owners Not Liable for Dog Attacks?

Even if a dog isn’t considered dangerous, the owner is generally responsible for any injuries the dog may cause to another person or pet. But there are some cases in which owners can be either partially or completely absolved of liability. If the attack victim was trespassing, or if the owner can prove that the victim acted negligently or provoked the attack in some way (hitting or teasing the animal, for example), then that person might not be entitled to any compensation. Keep in mind, too, that Maryland is a contributory negligence state, so you will have to prove that the other party is 100% liable in the attack in order to receive payment (or to avoid paying it).

What Steps Should I Take if I Have Been Attacked?

  1. Receive medical attention. Regardless of how serious your injuries are, you should have them checked out by a medical professional immediately after your attack. Not only does this safeguard against your injuries worsening, but it also provides you with a record of your injury, which is an important part of building a personal injury case.

  2. Get the contact information of the dog owner. If the owner is present during the attack, be sure to get their name, phone number and their insurance company details immediately afterward – even if your injuries are minor.

  3. Take pictures of your injuries. Photographing or videoing yourself after being attacked by a dog is probably one of the last things you’ll feel like doing, but it’s crucial. Having photographic proof of the damage that the dog caused will help establish the severity of your injuries.

  4. Talk to witnesses. Being able to provide corroborating evidence in a dog attack is extremely helpful as you build your case. Was anyone around to witness the attack? If so, ask them if they are willing to offer a written or video statement on your behalf.

  5. File a police report. Dog attacks are serious events, and the police should be notified if you think that a dog has behaved in a dangerous manner and/or its owners have been negligent. In addition to offering you further evidence to support your personal injury claim, a police report can alert authorities to the presence of a dangerous animal, which could potentially protect against future attacks.

  6. Get in touch with the dog owner’s insurance company. Depending on the circumstances of the attack, the dog owner’s insurance company may be willing to compensate you for your injuries and associated damages. Contact them and file a claim as soon as possible. In an ideal situation, you can earn the compensation you deserve and avoid taking your case to court.

  7. File a lawsuit against the dog owner. If, however, the dog owner’s insurance company is not willing to pay for your damages and you feel as though you have a strong case, your next step is to file a lawsuit against the dog owner. In a lawsuit, you would need to prove that the dog owner was negligent in some way, and that their negligence caused you to be injured.

  8. Don’t delay. In the state of Maryland, you typically have three years from the date of the injury to file a claim. That might seem like plenty of time, but the last thing you want to do is wait too long and then miss the deadline because you aren’t able to get all of your paperwork together quickly.

Like most personal injury cases, dog attacks can be complex. That’s why it’s important to enlist the help of an expert who knows the ins and outs of the law and can advise you on the best course of action.

If you’ve been injured in a dog attack and you believe you’re entitled to compensation, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.