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Can I Sue If My Dog Gets Attacked?

As a personal injury lawyer, I get questions from people wanting to know if they can sue in various situations.  All of our attorneys do.  One of the questions we get most often is “can I sue if my dog gets attacked and injured by another dog?”

The emotional motivation is easy to understand, right? People really love their dogs and view them as full members of the family. If your beloved dog gets viciously attacked and injured or even killed by another dog right in front of you, it’s only natural to want some type of justice.

Our lawyers get this question so often is because dog-on-dog attacks are very common. According to the VCA, attacks by other dogs are the most common reason for emergency veterinarian care.

Can I Sue in Maryland If a Dog Attacks My Dog?

You can sue the owner of the other for negligently failing to control their dog, but you will only be able to collect property damages. That is the crime of Maryland law in 2020. You are not getting pain and suffering damages for the dog’s pain or yours.

Dogs Are Considered Property Under the Law

So this is starting point for understanding your legal options if your dog is attacked is to realize that even though you consider your dog a member of the family, the law treats him as personal property.

I’m sorry.  Don’t blame the messenger.  I don’t think this will be the law in 2040.  But it is the law in 2020.

This is very significant because it significantly limits the type and amount of monetary damages that you get if the dog is killed or injured. When someone negligently damages or destroys property you can only sue them for the cost of repairing or replacing the property. You cannot get damages for pain and suffering and things of that nature.

Example of Dog on Dog Attack Damages Case

dog attack lawsuit

Here is an example of how this works out. For instance, let’s say your neighbor has a pit-bull with a lot of pent up rage. So one day he gets loose and attacks and kills your beloved golden retriever right in front of your entire family. Your neighbor had a duty to keep their pit-bull contained.  Can you sue them for negligence for letting the dog loose?  Absolutely.

Still, as we discuss more below,  you will only be entitled to damages for the cost of getting a new golden retriever.  But you won’t get any compensation for the emotional pain of seeing your dog killed or anything like that. If your dog only gets seriously injured instead of killed in the attacked, you can get damage for vet bills but only if they don’t exceed the cost of getting a new dog. So if the replacement value of your golden retriever is $5,000 and you spend $10,000 in emergency veterinary care, you will only be able to recover $5,000.

Is There a Cap on Damages to Injuries to a Pet in Maryland?

The cap on an injury to a pet in Maryland is $10,000.  So no matter how awful the injuries are, even in your pet is killed, this is the maximum recovery you can receive.

What Maryland Law Limits Your Recovery in a Dog Attack?

Section 11-110 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article is the Maryland law that puts a limit on injuries to pets.  Here is the statute:

§ 11-110. Damages for injury to pet
(a) Definitions. —
(1) In this section the following words have the meanings indicated.
(2) “Compensatory damages” means:
(i) In the case of the death of a pet, the fair market value of the pet before death and the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care; and
(ii) In the case of an injury to a pet, the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care.
(3)
(i) “Pet” means a domesticated animal.
(ii) “Pet” does not include livestock.
(b) Measure of damages. —
(1) A person who tortiously causes an injury to or death of a pet while acting individually or through an animal under the person’s ownership, direction, or control is liable to the owner of the pet for compensatory damages.
(2) The damages awarded under paragraph (1) of this subsection may not exceed $ 10,000.

(The bold is my emphasis.  It is not in the statute.)

How Do You Prove the Other Dog Owner Was Negligent?

If you want to sue the owner of the other dog who attacked your dog you will need to prove that they were somehow negligent. This usually means that they failed to properly control or contain their dog. The negligence of the other dog owner will depend on the circumstances of the attack. Let’s consider the following 2 hypothetical scenarios:

Scenario A: You have a 15-pound Yorkshire Terrier who thinks he’s pretty tough. You take him to the park. He aggressively charges a leashed 100-pound German Shepard who doesn’t particularly care for little yippie dogs and actually is pretty tough. Your little Yorkie gets killed or seriously injured. You understandably want to sue. The problem here is that there is no indication that the owner of the German Shepard was negligent. He had the dog on a leash and under control.

Scenario B: Let’s say your little tough guy Yorkshire Terrier is out in your fenced in a backyard and starts barking at a big Rottweiler going for a walk with his owner. The Rottweiler is also not a very big fan of yippie little dogs. He pulls the leash out of his owner’s hand. The dog jumps the fence. You Yorkie gets mauled.  Is this negligence?  This is clear negligence. The owner of the Rottweiler negligently failed to maintain control of his dog on the leash. You clearly have a claim in this case.

How Can I Handle My Own Dog Attack Case?

Personal injury lawyers generally do not take cases involving attacks and injuries to dogs, so if you want to sue your will probably need to do it yourself. Below is our step-by-step guide for how to handle your own dog attack lawsuit.

Report the Incident to Animal Control: Your first step immediately after the attack occurs should be to report the attack to local authorities. In Maryland this would be the County Animal Control. If you are opposed to calling Animal Control, don’t do it. (But it will hurt your case.) They will likely investigate the incident and issue a citation or take other legal action against the other owner if appropriate.

Send a Demand Letter to the Other Dog Owner: Your first step should be to contact the owner of the other dog and demand that they compensate you for the attack on their dog. The communication should be in writing (email or letter), in case you need to use it as evidence later. This is always a reasonable first step to take before filing any lawsuit.

File a Complaint in District Court: If you want to sue the other dog owner, you will need to file a complaint in the appropriate civil court. In Maryland, this would be the District Court for the County in which the incident took place. (see Maryland District Court Complaint form).

Serve Summons on Other Dog Owner: After you file your complaint in the appropriate civil court, the clerk of that court will issue a Civil Summons. This notifies the defendant of the lawsuit and compels them to respond. This Summons needs to be served on the defendant by someone other than you.

Appear for Trial with Evidence: After the Summons is served on the defendant the court will schedule a merit trial in your case. In Maryland, this is a bench trial before a District Court Judge with informal rules of evidence. Be prepared to present evidence to establish that the other dog owner was negligent. This will likely be testimony from you and any other witnesses. You will also need evidence to support your damages. This should include copies of your vet bills and some type of documentation showing how much your dog is worth (e.g., price quote from a breeder, or invoice from when you originally bought your dog).

Will it be easy to represent yourself in a dog attack case?   No.  It gets even harder if the damages claimed are above $10,000.  (You will need to understand the rules and how Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 10-105 works.)  But finding a lawyer will likely be either hard, cost  prohibitive, or both.  So if you want to press forward, you are going to have to educate yourself on how to put a small claim together.

Can Your Firm Help Me Recover for My Dog’s Injuries?

Our firm loves dogs. This is why we have written out this page.  We want to help you.  But we handle only personal injury cases for human victims.