The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard and voted on legislation (SB 2) on August 9 that would overturn a recent Maryland Court of Appeals case, Tracey v. Solesky, regarding owner and landlord liability for pit bulls.
The Solesky case held that owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes and their landlords strictly liable for any injury or death caused by a dog. Under the legal standard of strict liability, an owner or landlord would be automatically liable regardless of whether or not the dog has shown any dangerous tendencies in the past.
In response to the case, the General Assembly formed a task force to examine the issue. The task force met twice during the interim but did not approve a finalized bill. During the bill hearing, Committee Chair Brian Frosh noted the SB 2 “probably reflects” what the task force might have ultimately agreed upon.
The bill would hold a dog owner (of any breed) strictly liable. A majority of states apply some form of strict liability to dog owners. However, the bill also restores Maryland’s pre-Solesky liability standard for landlords, which considers a landlord’s knowledge and negligence. Animal shelters, veterinary clinics, pet shops and commercial kennels are exempted from the bill’s provisions.
The bill also exempts dogs being used by governmental employees for police and military work if: (1) the injured or deceased individual was participating in or suspected of participating in conduct that prompted the use of the dog; (2) the employee was complying with a written policy adopted by the governmental unit on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog in military or police work; and (3) the injury occurred as a result of the reasonable use of force.
After nearly four hours of testimony and debate, the Committee voted favorably on the bill. Only two Committee members, Senators Joseph Getty and Nancy Jacobs voted against the bill, citing concerns over extending strict liability to dog owners. Senators Bobby Zirkin, Victor Ramirez, and Jim Brochin voted for the bill but expressed concern about removing the strict liability requirements for landlords and property owners.
August 9 Cecil Whig article on reactions to Solesky case and August 9 dog owner rally