General Assembly Tackles Pit Bull & Dog Attack Legislation for Third Time

A January 5 Daily Record article reported that the Maryland General Assembly will attempt to resolve the liability issue over pit bull and other dog attacks during the 2014 Session.  A 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals, Tracey v. Solesky, case overturned Maryland’s previous dog bite law by holding that pit bulls and pit bull mixes were “inherently dangerous” and that their owners and landlords could be held automatically liable for any damage they caused.  (The Court subsequently removed pit bull mixes from its ruling.)  The General Assembly was unable to reach an agreement on creating a uniform liability standard for all dog attacks during a 2012 Special Session and the 2013 Regular Session.  The proposed 2013 legislation would create a rebuttable presumption that a dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous.

“We’ve reached a compromise,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Frosh said he and Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, will sponsor identical bills they hope will resolve the controversy surrounding the nearly 2-year-old decision by the state’s highest court.

A hearing on Simmons’ bill, which he prefiled, is scheduled for Jan. 23 in the House Judiciary Committee. Frosh is expected to introduce his bill soon after the session begins on Jan. 8.

The article noted that the attorney who represented the young dog attack victim in the 2012 Court of Appeals case opposes the proposed legislation while the United States Humane Society supports the compromise.

“What I want is a level playing field,” said Kevin A. Dunne an attorney in the firm of Ober | Kaler P.C. “The victims are the ones who are getting screwed here and they should be the first to be protected. They’re the ones getting no protection here.”  …

“I want a reasonable standard,” said Dunne, who represented the Solesky family. “If you have an animal¬ — any animal; a dog, a cat, a farm animal or exotic animal — and that animal injures someone then you are responsible,”  …

Tami Santelli, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill is a modified version of the bill that passed the Senate last year. The organization supported that bill and Santelli said it supports the Frosh-Simmons proposal this year.  …

“It does go back to the common law standard, but it also raises the bar, and some would say significantly, for the dog owner, regardless of the breed of the dog,” Santelli said.

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Pit Bull Issue