I was in a public dog park in Maryland which allows dogs off-leash, but has a sign clearly prohibiting pitbulls, as well as unneutered male dogs. A man entered with a pitbull that was out of control even before he got into the park. His dog started engaging with my dog in what was initially a playful manner. He did call his dog, but the pitbull never reacted except to become more excited.
I commented “they are just playing” because at first it was just play, but also the man obviously wasn’t actually making any viable attempt to control the dog anyway. Suddenly the pitbull pinned my dog to the ground. I told the man to get his dog, and I moved closer to be able to get my dog as soon as he got his.
Instead the man just moved back, and as I stood there waiting to get my dog, the pitbull lunged at me, biting and bruising my hand. The man apologized, but he never made any attempt to get his dog – I had to get his dog off mine after I was bitten.
The police and ambulance were called, and I was later treated at the emergency room. I had to have stitches but there was no permanent damage other than possibly minor scarring.
There were other dog owners at the dog park, but they weren’t close enough to see exactly what happened. They did take pictures of my hand, and are familiar with the inappropriate actions of that dog and his handler. I have not contacted them about paying for damages yet.
I wanted to know if the fact that I at one point said they were playing makes me partially responsible? Also could the County that owns the park wind up being liable for damages?
We enjoy the dog park and don’t want the County to shut the dog park down. I believe the owner and the person who brought the dog to the park should be responsible, but I’m not sure how the law works. Any information you can give would be helpful. Thank you.
Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.
Based on the facts you present, you are not responsible for the injuries to your hand. The dog park sign strictly prohibited Pitbulls. The Pitbull owner knew, or should have known of the prohibition, especially if he had previously taken his dog to the park. Your saying “they are just playing” does not relieve the man from liability for your injuries.
Your actions do not appear to constitute contributory negligence as defined under Maryland’s Pure Contributory Negligence Rule. You had no idea the Pitbull would suddenly jump on your dog and then bite you. You took no action to invite the attack.
However, because of the harshness of Maryland’s Pure Contributory Negligence Rule, if it is determined you were even partially liable for the injury, you would be barred from recovering any compensation from the PitBull owner.
Based on the facts, Charles County will likely not be responsible for your injuries and resulting costs. The county acted appropriately in posting a sign prohibiting Pitbulls. The only other way the County could have kept the Pitbull out would have been to post a security guard, deputy county sheriff, or other law enforcement agent at the dog park entrance. To do so would have been unreasonable.
Hopefully you obtained contact information from Pitbull owner. If not, go back to the dog park and see if you can locate him. Speak with dog owners to determine if any of them know the name and address of the Pitbull owner.
Contact Charles County Parks and Grounds Department and explain what happened. Give them the name and address of the Pitbull owner. The County may decide to issue a citation to him.
Also contact the Pitbull owner and demand reimbursement for your medical bills and, if applicable, veterinary bills for your dog. In many cases homeowner’s insurance covers dog bites. This may be the case for the Pitbull owner.
In the event the Pitbull owner refuses to cooperate, you can consider filing a Maryland Small Claims lawsuit against him. In Maryland, Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear case up to $5,000.
Learn more here: Dangerous Dog Laws and Injury Claims
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.
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