Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 15, 2013

Proposed state law includes strict liability for dog owners

CUMBERLAND — A law that would make dog owners strictly liable for injuries or deaths caused by their dogs has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

The law makes no distinction between breeds and would rectify what many legislators think was a bad decision last year by a Maryland court that declared pit bulls an inherently dangerous breed.

The proposed law, House Bill 78, would create “a ... rebuttable presumption in an action against an owner of a dog for damages for personal injury or death caused by the dog,” according to the language of the legislation.

In a court case, the owner of the dog will bear the burden of proof to rebut the presumption.

The bill reads, “in an action against an owner of a dog for damages for personal injury or death caused by the dog, evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.”

The proposed law is openly aimed at the court decision.

“It is the intent of the General Assembly that this act abrogate the holding of the Court of Appeals,” the bill states. The 2012 ruling not only imposed the strict liability standard, but found that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

The court ruling for Tracey v. Solesky deemed pit bulls as inherently dangerous animals, regardless of the dog, its owner or any training.

“It is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous,” the court ruled. The court slightly modified its ruling later in the year.

Breed of the dog would make no difference in the application of the law, if the new legislation passes.

Karl Brubaker, the manager of the Allegany County Animal Shelter, has said he was concerned by the court ruling.

“This ruling is very far-reaching and makes no distinction between private owners of pits and pit mixes and other groups that have legal ownership of these until they are adopted out,” Brubaker said at the time of the ruling.

Brubaker said it “can be very problematic” to attempt to identify a breed by visual examination.

Brubaker said he had read the court ruling and that it was rendered by a 4-3 split decision by the court.

The proposed law also aims to free landlords and others who own property but don’t own dogs from the strict liability imposed by the court.

The ruling, in essence, made the landlord just as liable as the dog owner in case of an attack.

The bill would return the state to the law as it existed before the court ruling last year. It would limit the liability of landlords to cases where the landlord could be proven to know of a dog’s vicious nature.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com. Staff writer Jeffrey Alderton also contributed to this story.

 

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