More on Pit Bulls—Maryland Appeals Court Affirms Strict Liability

by Tom Schild

The Maryland Court of Appeals on August 21 affirmed its April 26 ruling that owners of pit bulls and property owners who have the right to control the presence of pit bulls are strictly liable for injuries caused by such dogs,  However, the court did modify its earlier decision so it does not apply to mixed breed pit bulls.

In its April 26 decision in Tracey v. Solesky, the court ruled that property owners who know, or have reason to know, of the presence of a pit bull on their property are liable for injuries caused by such dogs, whether or not they know a particular dog has a history of vicious propensities.  The court concluded that pit bulls are inherently dangerous animals.

According to the appeals court August 21 decision, the strict liability standard for injuries caused by pit bulls “simply requires that those who possess them or permit them on their property take reasonable steps to assure that they do not run loose or otherwise are in a position to injure people”.

The appeals court decision has been widely criticized for its conclusion that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, for applying a different standard of liability to one  breed of dog, and for making landlords and others with the right to control the presence of pit bulls on their property strictly liable for injuries caused by such dogs.

In response to the appeals court decision, the Maryland General Assembly considered several bills regarding liability for injuries caused by dogs during its recent Special Session.  Although the House and Senate passed similar versions of legislation, the differences in the two versions were not resolved before the General Assembly adjourned until January 2013 without enacting any dog bite legislation.

With the appeals court standing by its April 26 ruling to impose strict liability on pit bull owners and property owners, legislation regarding dog bite liability is expected to be considered again during the regular 2013 legislative session.

Faced with greater potential liability for pit bull bites, some landlords reportedly are terminating leases of tenants who have pit bulls and some dog owners are surrendering their pit bulls to animal shelters.  And, some condominium, homeowner association and coop boards are considering a ban on pit bulls.

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