MACo Supports “Police Dog” Exemption from Liability Bill

During the House public hearing on the much-discussed “dangerous dogs” bill, MACo joined with the Maryland Chiefs of Police to seek a reasonable exemption for trained police dogs.

It was almost standing room only Thursday in the House Judiciary as the committee room was filled with 43 people prepared to testify on House Bill 73. The bill, introduced by Delegate Simmons, intends to nullify the ruling set in the 2012 Court of Appeals decision Tracey v. Solesky. That decision had overturned long-standing common law practices by holding that pit bulls and pit bull mixes were “inherently dangerous” and that their owners could be automatically liable for any damage caused by their dog. (The Court subsequently removed pit bull mixes from its ruling.)

As previously reported in Conduit Street, the General Assembly was unable to come to an agreement on proposed legislation in either the 2012 Special Session or 2013 Regular Session. Since then Delegate Simmons and Senator Frosh have come to a compromise on a bill that creates a rebuttable presumption that a dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous. The bill also contains language that retains the common law standard for actions against a person other than the owner of the dog regardless of the dog’s breed or heritage, and provides protection for any other common law or statutory cause of action, defense or immunity.  Senator Frosh has cross-filed an identical bill, Senate Bill 247.

Multiple panels testified in support of the bill. A few shared concerns and offered amendments in addition to their support, and even fewer testified in opposition to the bill. MACo testified and shared the concerns expressed by members of the law enforcement community in regards to potential increased liability for police dogs and the impact on local law enforcement departments and county government.

From MACo’s testimony:

MACo appreciates the hard work of this Committee in crafting a solution to the challenges posed by the Solesky decision. However, counties remain concerned that the broad defense and immunity language in the bill does not adequately shield county law enforcement departments from potential liability, or at least the effort and cost of going to court to assert governmental immunity and possibly having to rebut the presumption.

MACo submitted amendments that would address the concerns of liability for dogs used by police in the course of duty.

A hearing on Senate Bill 247 is scheduled for February 6 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Read MACo’s Full Testimony

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Pit Bull Issue