Maryland Court of Appeals overturns summary judgment holding, allowing dog-bite victim’s case to proceed to trial. – Mary Paone Latz v. Jacob Parr

In the summer of 2021, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals reversed a decision of a Howard County Circuit Court judge which had denied a dog-bite victim her day in court.

In August 2015, Ms. Latz was bitten by Ravyn a dog she alleged was owned by the defendants, Jacob Parr and Vicki Nichols. Just prior to the incident, Latz was sitting on her patio when the 78-pound dog, Ravyn ran into her apartment chasing Latz’s cat, Shadow. Latz pursued the dog to a back bedroom where Ravyn had Shadow cornered between a bed and a filing cabinet. To protect her cat, she grabbed Ravyn, but injured her neck and arm in the process.

Mrs. Latz was bitten by Raven and yelled for help.  Her husband responded, grabbed the dog, and returned it to Mr. Parr’s house.

According to Parr, Rayvn had been adopted from an animal rescue facility. Parr testified at trial that Parr and Nichols picked Rayvn up together. Parr and Nichols had been in a relationship for nine years at the time. Nichols lived in New Jersey but spent every other weekend at Parr’s residence. Rayvn usually resided with Ms. Nichols.

Mrs. Latz sued Mr. Parr.  After her case had been presented, the court dismissed the case against Parr, holding that the dog belonged to Nichols since it was Nichols, primarily, who housed the dog and was responsible for its care.

Mrs. Latz appealed arguing that the dismissal was wrong.  On appeal she argued that Parr was a co-owner of the dog and should be held responsible. In Maryland, dog bite cases are governed by statute, Md. Code, CJP §3-1901. That law sets the conditions under which “owners” are liable to dog bite victims.

The term “owner” is not defined in the statute, so the court looked to the broader statutory scheme for guidance. It stated that most Maryland animal control ordinances included within their definition of “owner” persons who “harbor, keep, or possess an animal.”  The court stated that “exercising some degree of care and control of a dog on one’s premises may be sufficient to establish liability.”

After reviewing several decisions from other states, the court concluded that a “reasonable fact-finder” could conclude that Parr and Nichols jointly adopted Rayvn and that even though Nichols was the primary custodian, Parr was an owner under Md. Code, CJP §3-1901.

The court considered the fact that Nichols and Ravyn were not mere occasional visitors, but that there was a long-term relationship and that they stayed there regularly. It also noted that Parr was familiar with Ravyn’s propensity to “door dash” and get “loose.”

The court held that Parr’s liability should be decided by the jury. Although not an owner, by the plain meaning of that term, Mr. Parr could be held accountable, under the broader definition of that term, as a harborer, keeper, or possessor of the dog. It also rejected Mr. Parr’s contention that he was not in control of the dog at the time of the incident. The court held that the question of whether Mr. Parr was responsible for Ravyn when she was staying at his property was one that belonged to the jury, stating that a jury could find that Parr and Nichols had dual or shared authority over Ravyn when she was resided at Parr’s home and thus both were responsible for the dog.

Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz, PC handles all types of injury cases, including dog bite cases.  If you have been injured, please call our office today for a free, no-obligation consultation to determine your rights.