As I was contemplating the topic for this week’s blog, I just so happened to have a parent visit me to discuss ongoing medical complications their child has been enduring due to injuries sustained when their neighbor’s dog bit the young boy.

Now, we all know that this is a very touchy subject and as a parent and dog owner myself, I don’t ever want to imagine being on either side of such an unfortunate event.   Nevertheless, it’s important to educated ourselves on the laws, particularly in Maryland, since they have changed a few times in the past couple years.   It is also important to know what to do if your child is ever a victim of a dog bite.

In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals made a decision making owners of pit bulls (and “third parties,” like landlords) automatically liable in the event that their dog bit or injured someone.  Because of this, some landlords were forced to make their tenants get rid of their pit bull or move out.

Animal rights groups protested the appeals court decision, saying that dogs that had never bitten anyone were being put down.  They also argued that the breed-specific language unfairly targeted a group of canines who may not even technically be a “breed.”

Earlier this year, the decision was overturned and a new bill was approved making it easier to hold dog owners (not just pit bull owners) accountable for injuries caused by their pets.  This bill provides a small measure of victory to pit bull owners who were singled out that their particular breed was “inherently dangerous.”

The new measure makes it easier to hold all dog owners liable for injuries caused by their pets but also gives owners the opportunity to defend their pet in court.  In the past, plaintiffs had to prove that the dog was dangerous.  Now, dog owners will have to prove that their dog is not dangerous.  The new bill does not contain breed-specific language and does not hold landlords accountable for the actions of a tenant’s dog.

Now that we know the law, what should you do if your child is a victim of a bite?

First and foremost, keep calm.  While emotions will try to get in the way, it’s important to keep a cool head and take the proper steps.

Make sure to obtain immediate medical attention for your child.  Even if the injury looks minor, it’s important to note that animal bites can easily become infected so a visit to the doctor or the ER is essential if the skin was broken.
If the dog owner is present, exchange contact information, take notes of the day, the time, and location of the incident.  If possible, take pictures of the scene, the dog, and of the injuries sustained.

Report the bite to the local authorities right away.   Again, even if it’s a minor injury, it’s important that a record has been established in the event that there had been a prior incident or if there is a future one.  Further, by reporting the attack, you’ll find whether or not the dog in question is up-to-date with its vaccinations.  Do not simply take the owner’s word for it.

Talk to your child and monitor their behavior even long past the incident.  If your child seems fearful, acts differently from normal, suffers from nightmares or otherwise seems upset or disturbed in the days or weeks following the incident, obtain a professional opinion about the need for trauma counseling.

Obtain the advice of an attorney.  Even if you don’t plan suit against the dog owner, it’s imperative to have the assistance of a lawyer when it comes to negotiating with the insurance companies.  Remember, their number one goal is to pay as little as possible for damages and injuries.

If you have any questions in regards to this topic, or if you have any other legal questions, please feel free to give me a call.

Lloyd Sarro is an Ingerman & Horwitz, LLP partner who specializes in workers’ compensation and other personal injury cases in the state of Maryland.  You can reach him with questions at 410-539-1200.