ANNAPOLIS — All Maryland dog owners would bear greater responsibility for dog bites — and landlords would have less — under a compromise measure introduced this week in the House to address a controversial ruling that pit bulls are an “inherently dangerous” breed.
Last year’s ruling by Maryland’s highest court made pit bull owners and landlords strictly liable for dog bites without previous evidence of a dog being dangerous. The court’s decision caused an outcry from pet owners and animal rights activists who said it focused on a single breed and made it harder for homeless pit bulls to be adopted.
Opponents also said the strict liability standard on landlords forced pet owners to choose between their pets and their homes.
Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the measure would restore the liability standard for landlords that existed before the ruling.
In effect, the bill increases protections for bite victims by creating a presumption that a dog owner should know the pet presented a danger. An owner who becomes a defendant after a bite will have a chance in court to try to prove the dog was not dangerous.
“So, in effect, most of these cases will now become questions for the jury,” Simmons said. “Plaintiffs will be able to get their case to the jury without having to go through a lot of rigmarole of trying to prove that an owner knew of the dog’s propensities, but the owner of the dog will still be able to defend himself or herself by presenting evidence that they didn’t know.”
Lawmakers tried to address the court decision in August during a short special session, which was called to expand gambling. However, differences between the House and Senate could not be settled at the time.