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 love their dogs and view them as full family members. 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 justice.

Our lawyers get this question so often because dog-on-dog attacks are widespread. 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 2023. You are not getting pain and suffering damages for the dog’s pain or yours.

Dogs Are Considered Property Under the Law

So the good news first. Dog owners are responsible for damages caused by their pets in most dog attacks in Maryland.  If the attacking dog’s owner is found negligent in controlling the dog, the owner may be liable for the damages incurred by the victimized dog.   You can file a lawsuit against the dog owner to recover damages for any veterinary bills, medication, or other expenses related to treating your dog’s injuries (or… the cost of replacing your dog).

But the bad news is in the subheading: dogs are personal property. 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 2023.

This is significant because it limits the type and amount of monetary damages 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 before 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 discussed below,  you will only be entitled to damages for 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 attack, 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.

But that cap is on economic damages.  So to get to that cap, you need hard economic damages, which do not include pain and suffering.

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 limits pets’ injuries.  Here is the statute:

§ 11-110. Damages for injury to a 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.
(i) “Pet” means a domesticated animal.
(ii) “Pet” does not include livestock.
(b) Measure of damages. —
(1) A person who tortuously 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.)

What Does This Law Mean?

Section 11-110 helps owners whose pets are hurt or killed by someone else’s mistake. So if someone hurts or kills your pet, they may have to pay you money to cover the costs of veterinary care and the value of your pet if your pet dies. (This law only applies to pets, not farm animals like cows or pigs.) But the problem is, the most you can get from this law is $10,000, which does not include your pain and suffering or your pet’s pain and suffering.

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 must 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 is pretty tough and doesn’t particularly care for little yippie dogs. 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 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 handling your dog attack lawsuit.

Report the Incident to Animal Control: Your first step immediately after the attack 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, 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 other dog’s owner 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 must file a complaint in the appropriate civil court. In Maryland, this would be the District Court for the County that has jurisdiction over your case based on the location where the incident occurred or where the defendant lives or does business. (The best and appropriate venue can be a challenge to determine in many cases but not in most of these dog bite claims.)

Serve Summons on Other Dog Owners: 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 must be served on the defendant by someone other than you.  There are also certified mail, return receipt requests options you can investigate that are cheaper than hiring someone to serve the defendant.

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 documentation showing how much your dog is worth (e.g., a price quote from a breeder or an invoice from when you originally bought your dog).

Will it be easy to represent yourself in a dog attack case?   No.  It gets even more complex if the damages claimed are above $10,000.  (You must understand the rules and how Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 10-105 works.  It is not that complicated – the plaintiff must file a written complaint with the court, which includes a separate document itemizing the damage.)

But finding a lawyer will likely be either hard, cost prohibitive, or both.  So if you want to press forward, you must 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.