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Who is Liable: Salesman Comes on your farm and is bit by your dog?

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

By Wele Elangwe

Jack Russell dog on grass.

It is important for farmers to know when they are liable for a dog bite. Newsflash farmers: If a salesman comes to your door uninvited and trying to sell his merchandise and your dog bites him, the salesman can make a claim against you!

Under Maryland law, a dog owner may be liable for injuries caused by the dog under two main liability theories: negligence or strict liability.

A negligence claim may be possible against the dog owner if he knew or should have known that the dog had vicious and dangerous propensities. Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code section 3-1901.

Strict liability arises from the dog owner’s responsibility to restrain the dog for public safety whether on public or private property. The dog owner will be strictly liable if he is unable to that he knew, or should have known, of his dog’s propensity to cause the harm that was caused.

A farmer will be liable under premises liability for all cases in which a person was injured because of a dangerous condition on their land. Under Maryland law, there are generally four legal categories for premises liability of individuals injured by dog bites. These different categories impose different responsibilities of safety depending who was hurt. The categories are:

· invitee

· licensee by invitation

· bare licensee

· trespasser

An invitee is a business guest or customer while a licensee by invitation is a social guest e.g. a guest to a party. These two categories require high protection with the higher duty to protect the invitee over the licensee by invitation. A bare licensee on the other hand is a person who enters the property of another for their own purpose or interest and with the owner’s knowledge and consent (could be implied consent). Meanwhile, a trespasser is someone who enters the property or land of another without permission. The farmer’s obligation to the trespasser is the lowest obligation of the four categories. The only duty in case of a trespasser is for the farmer to refrain from intentionally hurting the trespasser. However, the farmer’s obligation to a bare licensee is higher than a trespasser and the farmer is obligated to refrain from purposefully injuring the bare licensee and refrain from creating any new dangerous conditions without warning the bare licensee.

A salesman will fall under the category of a bare licensee because he or she has permission to enter onto the owner’s property, even though they do so for their own purpose (i.e. make a sale). The bare licensee must take the premises as he or she finds it but the owner has a duty to prevent foreseeable harm in order not to be liable for a negligence claim.

The salesman will be considered a trespasser if there are clear signs restricting access to the property or land or a locked gate. Conversely, there is an implied permission to enter the property in the absence of “no soliciting” signs posted or a locked gate that tell individuals such as salesmen not to trespass.

For necessary coverage and to avoid liability, farmers with dogs on their farms and premises are strongly advised to obtain homeowner’s insurance so that they can be protected should a legitimate dog bite claim be made against them. Renter’s insurance policies may also cover in some rare cases).

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