Update on the Maryland Pit Bull Decision

In a previous blog entitled “Landlords, Pit Bulls, and Liabiality. Oh my!” I discussed the Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Tracey v. Solesky.

In that (in my opinion, bad) decision Maryland’s highest court determined that pit bulls are a dangerous breed of dog and imposed a strict liability standard in cases involving pit bull (or cross breed pit bull) attacks. Succinctly, the court decided to single out an entire breed of dog (even though it’s difficult to determine what a pit bull mix is) in holding:

We hold that upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull mix, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises as in this case) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix, that person is strictly liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises.

In my initial blog, I advised landlords not to overlook this decision and to consider whether their lease agreements should expressly prohibit the keeping of pit bulls because allowing tenants to keep a pit bull or pit bull mixed breed dog on their property may subject them to liability. While I don’t agree with the decision, it would have been remiss of me not to advise landlords and my landlord clients as to the ramifications of the Tracey decision.

But, I’ll say it again:  The Tracey v. Solesky decision was a bad decision which, in my opinion unfairly targeted an entire breed of dogs. What about Rottweilers? Or German Shepherds? These dogs bite, too. Or, what about the many, many loveable and non-violent pit bulls owned by RESPONSIBLE dog owners. Simply put, the court’s decision unfairly targets some pit bull owners when there is no clear definition of a pit bull breed.

I wasn’t the only one who recognized that the court’s decision in Tracey v. Solesky was a bad one. In May, 2012 The Maryland General Assembly Senate President and House Speaker convened a Task Force to study the court decision regarding pit bulls. The Task Force was convened to:

consider the April decision of the Court of Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky; how it affects the common law of Maryland; and what similar common law and statues are found in other states. Further, the Task Foce will study the viability and definition of breed-specific standards in Maryland law and local prohibitions, as well as any issues concerning property insurance arising from the Court decision. Finally, the Task Force will make recommendations for potential legislation.

As of the date of this blog, I am aware through the Maryland State Bar Association Animal Law Section that the Task Force is currently are working on a bill, to overturn the Tracey decision. This new bill is expected to be considered during the Maryland General Assembly’s special session beginning today (Thursday, August 9, 2012) and seeks to impose liability on all dog owners, regardless of breed, but revert to the common law for landlords, imposing liability only if the landlord knows of the dog’s vicious propensities.

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