Proving a dog bite?

by Anonymous
(Maryland)

Recently I was at a large field with with my medium sized dog and several other dogs of various sizes. All dogs were off leash, running around the field and playing. Another dog arrived and was chasing a tennis ball. The other dogs including mine ran over to play and engage with this dog. My dog will often chase another dog who is running after a tennis ball but is generally uninterested in balls.

Later that morning, a girl with a large dog came over to a group of us to say her dog (who she was dog sitting) was bit and she isn't sure what happened. She thinks it was my dog.

I told her I didn't think so, as that was very uncharacteristic of my pup who attends dog daycare, works with a professional trainer, does agility and is very well socialized. She is not aggressive and has never gotten into a scuffle with another dog.

No one in the group including myself saw a dog bite or altercation, or even heard anything out of the ordinary. Clearly the dog was bitten as we could see, but no one saw how it happened.

Later in the day the dog sitter must have gotten more confident in her story and told the owner my dog attacked and bit hers. Now the owner is demanding I pay the vet bills. I told the owner there were several dogs in that area and no one saw a dog bite, how could she say it was my dog when she wasn't even there?

She is threatening to take me to court if I don't take responsibility and pay 100% of the vet bills. Can she do this when no one saw who bit her dog? How can I defend against this? Do I have to get a lawyer? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Proving a dog bite?":

Anonymous (Maryland):

Just about anyone can sue anybody, for anything, at anytime. That doesn't mean the lawsuit has any basis in fact. If you believe it wasn't your dog who inflicted the bite, and there are no witnesses who saw your dog inflict the bite, then the dog owner can threaten all she wants. With no witnesses, she likely has no case.

It would be almost impossible for the dog owner to find an attorney to represent her on a contingency fee basis. (Contingency fees are legal fees attorneys charge only in the event they succeed in settling a case, or winning it in court. No legal fees are paid in advance.)

Instead, the dog owner would very likely have to pay an attorney on an hourly fee basis. Because the legal fees would certainly be much more than the vet bills, it is unlikely the dog owner would retain an attorney.

Instead, if the dog owner decides to sue, she would have to do so in one of Maryland’s Small Claims Courts.

Tell the dog owner you would reimburse her for her vet bills if she is able to produce credible witnesses who saw your dog inflict the bite. If she gives you witnesses' names, contact them and see what they have to say. If you believe the witness are credible, then consider reimbursing the dog owner for her vet bills.

However, before writing that check, go back to the dog park and attempt to find dog owners or dog sitters who may have been there at the time the dog was bitten. Ask them if they saw the bite, and if so, whether it was your dog who inflicted the bite.

In addition, ask the dog owners if they have been contacted by the woman who is threatening to sue you. Once again, if you are able to find one or more witnesses who saw your dog inflict the bite, then you should should consider reimbursing the dog owner for her bills.

If there are no witnesses, or you find witnesses who were sure your dog wasn't the culprit, then it is very likely the dog owner won't be suing you. Without witnesses her case would be summarily dismissed by the court, or the court would find for the defendant...that would be you, and that's a good thing.

Finally, in the unlikely event you are sued, and the verdict is in your favor, ask the judge to order the woman to reimburse you for the time you had to take off from work, the court parking lot fees, and any other costs you incurred directly related to the lawsuit.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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