A dog bite victim in Maine can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort. The dog bite statute has an unusual feature: strict liability applies only if the victim is not on the owner’s or keeper’s property when injured.
- Litigation forms and other materials for attorneys
- If your case involves injury to a dog, see When a Dog Is Injured or Killed
Maine is a strict liability state. The “one bite rule” was rejected in 2001. (See The One Bite Rule; compare with Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.) The dog bite statute applies only to victims who are not on the owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the injury, and the law disallows a reduction in damages for comparative negligence unless the victim’s fault exceeds the fault of the dog’s owner or keeper. The statute reads as follows:
3961. Reimbursement for damage done by animals
1. Injuries and damages by animal. When an animal damages a person or that person’s property due to negligence of the animal’s owner or keeper, the owner or keeper of that animal is liable in a civil action to the person injured for the amount of damage done if the damage was not occasioned through the fault of the person injured.
2. Injuries by dog. Notwithstanding subsection 1, when a dog injures a person who is not on the owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the injury, the owner or keeper of the dog is liable in a civil action to the person injured for the amount of the damages. Any fault on the part of the person injured may not reduce the damages recovered for physical injury to that person unless the court determines that the fault of the person injured exceeded the fault of the dog’s keeper or owner.
The statute makes use of the terms “keeper” and “owner,” which are defined as follows:
16. Keeper. “Keeper” means a person in possession or control of a dog or other animal. A person becomes the keeper of a stray domesticated animal, other than a dog or livestock, if the person feeds that animal for at least 10 consecutive days.
21. Owner. “Owner” means a person owning, keeping or harboring a dog or other animal.
Maine has a weak state law that prohibits dogs from being “at large” but contains a substantial “loophole” that prevents convictions, and limits the penalty to a fine ranging from $25 to $250. The prohibition against running at large is contained in section 3911:
3911. Dogs at large
It is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to be at large, except when used for hunting. The owner or keeper of any dog found at large is subject to the penalties provided in this chapter.
The loophole is found in section 3107, which defines “at large” as meaning an animal that is off the premises of the owner and not under the control of any person whose personal presence and attention would reasonably control the conduct of the animal. This definition creates the weakest type of “at large” law in the nation. The more restrictive definition of “at large” is that the dog is off the premises of the owner and not on a leash held by a person who is over the age of 14 and capable of controlling the dog.
The penalty for permitting or suffering a dog to go “at large” is a fine of $50 to $250 (sec. 3915) for the first violation, a fine of $100 to $500 for violations after the first one. If the dog is considered to be a stray, the consequence can include having the dog disposed of as a stray dog. (Sec. 3912.)
The unique dog laws of Maine
The state law of Maine contains many provisions that are unusual because they are most often found in city and county ordinances, not in state statutes. For example, section 3952 is a dangerous dog law, of a type that usually is found in local codes. Furthermore, Maine articulates several legal principles that are not commonly found in state statutes, such as section 3951 (“Any person may lawfully kill a dog if necessary to protect that person, another person or a domesticated animal during the course of a sudden, unprovoked assault.”)
Interestingly, Maine makes it a civil violation for animal control authorities to fail to enforce the animal control laws. (Sec. 3950-A.) The guilty party can be fined $50 to $250. When such laws exist, moreover, it usually is possible for an injured person to base a separate civil action upon violation of those laws.