Delegate Argues Pit Bull Holding Needs Fixing

In a July 2 letter published in the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Delegate Jon Cardin argues that the Maryland Court of Appeals holding that designates all dogs identified as pit bulls and pit bull mixes as “inherently dangerous” and holding their owners strictly liable for their actions will “bring about great expense to innocent parties and keep good dogs in our already overpopulated shelters.”  The Delegate expresses confidence that the task force that has been meeting over the summer is the proper venue to study the issue will be able produce a balanced solution.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the task force is considering holding all dog owners strictly liable for the actions of their dogs, regardless of breed or lack of prior history.

Most if not all of us would agree that dog owners should be held responsible for the actions of their dogs. However, by imposing strict liability under the law, the Court of Appeals ruling is overly broad; it will result in harsh restrictions and expenses related to dogs where there is no indication of any risk posed to humans. The ruling no longer requires a victim of a pit bull attack to show that a defendant knew the dog had a history of dangerous behavior (“propensity for viciousness”) to make a civil claim in court; the victim must show only that the owner or property owner knew a dog was at least part pit bull. Opponents of the ruling argue that it unfairly targets pit bulls, and that liability should be determined by a dog’s behavior, not its breed. …

Meanwhile, the real possibility of liability for potential incidents is causing landlords to force dog owners out of their properties, and preventing people from adopting dogs with pit bull bloodlines or appearances, further exacerbating overcrowding in shelters. Clarifying the scope of liability here is imperative, and waiting until the January legislative session could result in tragic outcomes — for people and dogs. The legislature is the appropriate body to study the issue carefully and strike the appropriate balance between public safety and fairness. We must get this right.

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