Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Governor O'Malley Signs Compromise Dog Bite Bill

In 2012, in the case of Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627, 50 A.3d 1075, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” and imposed a strict liability standard on owners and landlords. The highest court’s ruling resulted from a pit bull attack in 2007 in Baltimore County in which a 10-year-old boy was severely injured by his neighbor’s pit bull.

The ruling regarding pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls faced great criticism from pet owners and animal rights activists because of its focus on a single breed. In addition the ruling was criticized for making it more difficult to find adoptive homes for pit bulls.

In response to the pit bull ruling and its subsequent criticism, and after failed attempts to pass legislation the Maryland General Assembly approved a compromise measure. Under this legislation all Maryland dog owners, regardless of breed, would be held to the same negligence standard for dog bites and owners would be allowed to defend themselves in actions arising out of their dog biting others. Thus, rather than strict liability for dog bites by pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls, the determination of an owner’s liability regarding the dangerousness of their dog will be left to a jury determination, however, a strict liability standard applies to all dogs if an injury resulted while that dog was running at large.

In early April 2014, Governor Martin O’Malley signed the legislation into law. Thus, overturning the Court of Appeals decision in Tracey v. Solesky and ending the shirt lived era of a strict liability standard applied only to dog bites by pit bull and cross-bred pit bulls. Under Maryland’s new law, bites by pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls will be treated the same as dog bites by any other breed. 

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