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Maryland law does not distinguish between different breeds of dogs or single out pit bulls for special treatment. All dog owners have a common set of responsibilities. Some Maryland counties have breed-specific laws, so make sure to check with your county.
If your dog injures or kills someone, the law presumes that you knew, or should have known, that your dog was dangerous. This presumption makes it easier for the injured person to sue you. You can present evidence that you did not know your dog was dangerous. HOWEVER, unless you can prove that you had this lack of knowledge, the law assumes you knew or should have known.
If your dog causes injury, death, or property damage while running at large, you are legally responsible UNLESS the person who was injured or killed or suffered property damage was doing one of these things:
- Committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner;
- Committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person; OR
- Teasing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-1901
In addition to a civil case, you may also face criminal charges, namely criminal misdemeanor, and a fine of up to $2,500 if your dog injured someone, and the dog is considered dangerous.
A dog is dangerous if the dog:
- without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person
- is deemed to be dangerous by an appropriate unit of a county or municipal corporation and after the determination is made:
- bites a person;
- kills or severely injures another domestic animal on another person’s property; OR
- attacks without provocation.
Severe injury means a physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.
If you have a dangerous dog, as defined by the law, then there are requirements related to how you may leave the dog unattended on your property, how your dog may leave your property, and providing notice when you give away or sell your dog.
NOTE: This does not apply if law enforcement or the government owns or works with the dog.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law § 10-619
As a landlord, you may be held liable for injuries caused by your tenant’s dogs, regardless of the breed, if you had knowledge that the dog was dangerous and did not take reasonable steps to protect tenants and visitors from harm. Things like knowledge of previous attacks or reports from tenants that the dog acted viciously can be used as evidence that you knew the dog was dangerous.
As a landlord, it is your responsibility to take reasonable measures to make the premises safe for all, which includes keeping common areas like hallways, laundry room, etc., safe. If a person is injured by your tenant's dog in a common area under your control, you could be found liable if you did not take reasonable steps to prevent the harm.
A potential defense to liability for the dog attack is if the injury happens inside a tenant's apartment or another place that you have no right to control. You also have a potential defense against liability if the person is a trespasser on the property.
Read the Case: Shields v. Wagman, 350 Md. 666 (Court of Appeals, 1998)
If you are bitten, injured, etc., from a dog, there is a set time window for filing a lawsuit against the dog owner or landlord for a civil case. The victim has three years “from the date it [action] accrues” to file a civil lawsuit against the dog owner or landlord unless the Maryland Code says otherwise. Usually, it is 3 years from the time of the incident. Failure to file the lawsuit within that time period may result in the case’s dismissal. This time limit only applies to civil cases.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-101