Thursday, May 10, 2012

No More Free Bites

On April 26, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals, filed an opinion in Tracey v. Solesky, which overturned several hundred years of legal precedent, even law that came to Maryland from England, regarding liability for attacks by dogs.

The Court of Appeals found that pit bull or pit bull mixed dog owners, or other persons who have the right to control a dog’s presence on the property (including LANDLORDS) are strictly liable for the injuries to an innocent party. This changes the law in Maryland in three respects: 1) a plaintiff in a dog bite case no longer has to show that the dog is dangerous (i.e. the “one free bite rule” has been eliminated); 2) the defendant(s) are STRICTLY liable for a plaintiff’s injuries, meaning that there are very limited liability defenses to a dog bite case, and 3) that landlords are now liable for injuries, if they failed to prohibit pit bull breeds on their premises and they know or should have known that a pit bull was on their premises.

This opinion will have an immediate impact on insurance companies. No longer can an owner of a pit bull or pit bull mix argue that the dog has never bitten anyone in the past. Typically, an insurance company could drop that dog from insurance coverage at that point, but that is no longer the case. This change in the law also applies to landlords, commercial or residential.

Moving forward, it is important for insurance companies to understand the risks inherent in insuring a home, a commercial property, a commercial landlord or a residential landlord if a pit bull or pit bull mix is allowed on the premises. ANY injuries caused by that dog are, more than likely, going to be the responsibility of the insurance company.

Just remember, a “first bite” is no longer a “first bite” if it comes from a pit bull or a pit bull mix.

Article contributed by Derrick Dye

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