“When an attack involves Pit Bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular Pit Bull or Pit Bulls are dangerous,” the ruling states.
The mere fact that the dog is Pit Bull, or looks like one, is now sufficient to establish a case for damages.
The decision makes ownership of Pit Bulls or mixes in Maryland a “strict liability risk,” meaning that owners of these dogs – along with the landlords who rent to these owners – will be liable for damages should the dog bite someone. No longer will it need to be proven that the dog was dangerous; it will be automatically assumed.
According to Edward Tan, JD, in a Reuters story, strict liability is normally applied in cases of “ultra-hazardous” situations “like transporting chemicals or handling explosives. The reasoning is that no amount of precautions can ever be enough. For a court to apply strict liability to Maryland Pit Bull owners, the decision changes the landscape of traditional dog bite laws.”
Most dog bite laws hold the owner responsible only if the dog had bitten before. “The Maryland court’s decision dispels this norm,” Tan writes. “So for Pit Bull owners in the state, keeping one now means owning a legal liability.”
The ruling is based on one case, Tracey v Solesky, where a Pit Bull named Clifford escaped from his pen and attacked a young boy, causing severe injuries.
The Maryland SPCA and Pit Bull rescue groups are concerned that by blaming the entire breed instead of specific deeds, the number of these dogs being euthanized will greatly increase. It could also set a precedent for similar laws in other states.
“We believe that an animal’s behavior should be the determining factor in whether or not the animal is considered dangerous,” Cheryl Bernard Smith, of the SPCA, told NBC Washington. “We don’t believe that a particular breed should be pinpointed for that.”
Betsy McFarland, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said in a press release that the court of appeals doesn’t have the authority to dictate such a major change in the law.
“The decision acknowledged it was ‘modifying the Maryland common law of liability.’ A seismic shift in Maryland law of this nature should be undertaken by the legislature, not judges,” she stated. “The legislature should conduct appropriate fact-finding and hearings, consider the available science and make a measured, non-emotional decision on this important policy issue.”
According to the press release, the HSUS “will work with Maryland dog advocates and members of the legislature to develop rational, science-based dangerous dog policies for the state.”
PHOTO: Beverly & Pack