Court Partially Revisits Pit Bull Decision

An August 21 Washington Post blog post announces that the Maryland Court of Appeals has partially revised its earlier holding finding pit bulls and pit bull mixes “inherently dangerous” and holding both owners of the dogs and their landlords strictly liable for any damages caused by the dogs.  The case prompted concern from dog owners, animal rights groups, and landlords.  The General Assembly formed a task force to examine the issue but the task force was unable to reach a consensus prior to the August special session and competing corrective bills died when the special session ended.

In reconsidering the issue, the Court upheld most of it earlier decision but did remove pit bull mixes from the holding.  From the Court’s August 21 motion for reconsideration:

That said, having re-read the briefs, relevant portions of the record extract, and the dissent, I am now convinced that, on the record before us, the application of the Court’s holding of strict liability to cross-bred pit bulls was both gratuitous and erroneous. I would grant the motion for reconsideration, in part, to delete any reference to cross-bred pit bulls (i.e., part pit bull and part some other breed of domestic dog) so that the Court’s holding would apply only to pit bulls that are not cross-breds.

By leaving the strict liability for pit bull owners and landlords intact,it is likely the issue will be debated by the General Assembly during the 2013 Session. A spokesman from the Humane Society expressed disappointment with the holding in the blog post:

“The ruling didn’t do anything really to clarify the confusion,” said Tami Santelli, Maryland director for the Humane Society of the United States. “What is a pure-bred pit bull?”  …

“With the failure of the General Assembly to remedy the situation last week during their special session, Marylanders are now exposed to the full consequences of the court decision. Families will now have to make an agonizing choice between losing their homes or their beloved family pets,” Santelli said.

Further coverage from an August 21 Capital article:

Susan Hankin, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said Tuesday’s ruling doesn’t add much clarity.

“I don’t even know that pit bull is a recognized breed,” said Hankin, who teaches animal law and tort law. “I’m not sure it makes it any easier for people who have dogs that look like pit bulls.”


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