Bipartisan Bill Aimed At “Dangerous Dog” Liability

Senator Brian Frosh  and Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons have co-sponsored a bill they hope will break the impasse over “dangerous” dog-liability. As reported in the Montgomery Gazette, the bill proposed by the two Montgomery County legislators (House Bill 73/Senate Bill 247) hopes to address criticisms that have prevented the legislature from coming to an agreement on a new standard for dog attacks.

Their bill, cross-filed in the House and Senate, increase protections for victims of dog bites by not requiring them to prove in civil actions that an owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous, Simmons said.

The bills also let an owner call witnesses to testify that the dog was friendly and not dangerous and that the incident was isolated or unpredictable.

“Every case becomes a jury question [to figure out],” Simmons said.

Frosh said he believes the bill is fair to all parties connected to a dog bite and “goes straight down the middle” between victims and dog owners.

Dog bites make up about 0.2 percent of total injuries from external causes — including vehicle crashes, slipping and falling, and other reasons — that required hospitalization, Simmons said.

Between 2005 and 2011, there was one death in Maryland from a dog bite, compared with about 5,000 deaths from motor vehicles, he said.

During the House public hearing held January 23rd on the much-discussed “dangerous dogs” bill, MACo joined with the Maryland Chiefs of Police to seek a reasonable exemption for trained police dogs over concerns there is potential increased liability for police dogs, which would have an impact on local law enforcement departments and county governments.

The three year impasse began after the 2012 Court of Appeals decision Tracey v. Solesky, which 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.

A hearing in the Senate is scheduled for February 6.