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Beware of Dog – Really

In some states, a dog owner is liable for the dog’s behavior no matter what (a doctrine known as strict liability.) In other states, the dog owner is held liable for a dog bite only if it can be proved that he or she knew, or should have known, that the dog had a propensity to bite. This is often referred to as the one-bite rule. The dog (and its owner) might get away with the first bite if there was no previous history of viciousness — but if the beast ever bites again, the owner would be hard-pressed to claim ignorance of little Fifi’s true nature.

Maryland dog bite law generally adheres to the one-bite rule — but not if the injured person was trespassing on the dog owner’s property. That is because Maryland is also one of only five states that subscribe to the rule of Pure Contributory Negligence, which holds that an injured party cannot recover damages if his or her actions were partially at fault for the injury — even in the tiniest proportion to the fault of the other party. Expressed as a percentage, even if the injured party was one percent responsible for the injury and the other party was 99 percent responsible, the injured party is out of luck.

That rule applies to all personal injury claims in the state — from auto accidents to slip-and-fall incidents. But when it comes to dog bites, it means Fang can gnaw away on an intruder and his owner won’t even get the legal equivalent of a newspaper on the nose (as long as he’s not standing by and cheering the dog on).  So unless you are an invited guest, if you see a sign that says, Beware of Dog — Keep Out!, you might want to pay attention.

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