What Legal Liability Do Pit Bull Owners Have In Maryland?

The pit bull controversy continues to swirl in Maryland. Over the last decade, a disproportionate number of serious injuries and lethal attacks from this aggressive breed of dog have seen a disturbing trend upward. According to DogsBite.org, a national dog bite victims’ group dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks, in the first half of 2013, pit bulls delivered 93 percent of all dog bite fatalities. That is well above the average of 60 percent in the years from 2005 to 2012.

While pit bull advocates have long argued that the breed is not inherently dangerous and no more likely to attack people than other types of dogs, the statistics suggest otherwise. Topping the list of dogs involved in human attacks, the pit bull delivers nearly double the bites of the second highest offender, the Rottweiler.

In an attempt to slow the increase in serious damage pit bulls have inflicted on people and other pets, many states and local officials are responding by tightening “the legal leash” on pit bull ownership.

What Legal Liability Do Pit Bull Owners In Maryland Have?

Pit bull owners in Maryland can be held civilly liable for damages arising out of an attack by their dogs. In April 2012, a toughly-worded Maryland Court of Appeals ruling specifically targeted pit bulls and made owners andlandlords culpable for a dog’s violent behavior, even if they had no prior knowledge of its vicious propensities. Animal rights groups were up in arms. They challenged the Court’s ruling, arguing that the breed-specific language unfairly singled-out one group of canines. Their argument prevailed and in February of 2013, the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously approved a bill that overturns the former Court of Appeals ruling. While owners are still held legally responsible for their dogs’ damage, the bill’s unambiguous language:

  • doesn’t contain breed-specific language
  • doesn’t hold landlords liable for the actions of tenant’s dog.

The bill now heads to the Maryland state senate, where it is expected to pass easily.

Governing Liability of Attacks

There are two major situations that put pit bull owners in Maryland at risk of liability: The first involves the owner knowing or having reason to believe his or her dog has violent tendencies. For instance, if the dog has bitten someone before, the owner will be held responsible if it bites again. In the second scenario, the dog owner must be negligent. Say, for example, that your dog bit someone in the past. The owner must now exercise extreme caution and control over the dog because there’s a clear expectation that the animal could cause harm and injury again.

As with any type of dog, domestic pet owners have always been required to control and contain their animals. Maryland has fairly strict leash laws – no dogs should ever be allowed to run free and unsupervised, especially around children and small pets.

Overturned, But Not Over

Even though the Court of Appeals’ statute was unsuccessful, it attempted to heighten awareness, motivate responsible ownership of this controversial breed and put pit bull owners in Maryland on notice: Pit bulls are a public safety issue that demands a higher standard than those who own poodles. It might seem unfair, but if you want to avoid the risk of an expensive lawsuit and skyrocketing home insurance rates, then be a decent, conscientious, sane and responsible pit bull owner. It’s that simple and in everyone’s best interest.

This blog originally appeared on www.drewcochranlaw.com. For more information, or to read more by Drew Cochran, please click here.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Karen Batchelor December 23, 2013 at 05:27 PM
It really is irresponsible for media to quote sources known to disseminate propaganda, faked stats and misinformation as if they are a respected and official source. Dogsbite.org is a known hate site with an anti-dog agenda and it's founder has no qualifications as a dog breed or behaviour expert. She is a web designer. A simple google search would have saved the writer of this article the embarrassment of quoting such a widely discredited 'organisation' and it's associated and notorious splinter groups.
itsneverboring January 07, 2014 at 08:36 AM
Dogsbite.org is a group of people dedicate to eradicate the pit bull breed, not to advocate for dog bite victims. The woman who runs it is known to fabricate statistics. You would do a much better service to the community if you quoted statistics from a reputable source, something they teach in English Comp 101. Try to find stats on dog bites and you will discover that all reputable sources will tell you that there is no way to track dog bites by breed because of the way incidents are reported. Add to that the fact that "pit bull" encompasses several breeds, and you will find yourself looking for new subject matter to blog about. I must wonder if you are a personal injury lawyer like Bobby Zirkin, the mouthpiece for breed specific legislation in the great state of Maryland. Another idiot with an agenda. Shame on you.
Skye Anderson January 08, 2014 at 11:01 AM
Perhaps someone could post a reputable dogbite URL here. . . .
vahlvt January 12, 2014 at 01:54 PM
The owner of any breed of dog or cat should be held liable of their pet should bite someone as long as the bite was not in defense of the owners or the animal's life. Why should it matter if the animal in question is of a bully breed? A “bully” breed is one of a number of dog breeds which are descended from an ancient dog type known as a Molosser, used by the Greeks as warriors. For two thousand years, the Molossers and their decedents where combined with various types of dogs from all over Europe including Mastiff types and Old English Bulldogs. Over time, these breeds were developed for purposes other than war, including herding cattle and helping butchers maneuver animals destined for slaughter. The owners of these working dogs arranged contests to demonstrate their dogs’ prowess against bulls – hence the name “bull dog”. Unfortunately, these contests turned into the cruel sport of bull-baiting, and when this was outlawed, dog fighting became the more common blood sport. However, these bull-type breeds weren’t just used in violent sports – they continued to be herders, as well as guardians and companions. Pit Bulls, the breed everyone thinks of when they hear the term “bully breed”, have served with distinction in the military, have been movie stars and for decades were considered “America’s Dog”. They have also been called nanny dogs because of their even disposition and gentleness with children. Today many are excellent service and therapy dogs. Boxers are used in search and rescue, as watch dogs and as police dogs. Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs are popular and delightful companion animals. And as an FYI bully breeds encompass the following: Boxer Alapaha blue blood American bulldog American Staffordshire terrier Boston terrier Bull terriers ( including standard and miniature) Bull dog ( English and Olde English) Bull mastiff French bullog ( I happen to own one of these) American pit bull terrier Renascence bulldogge Staffordshire bull terrier Victorian bulldog
Pam Hamburg January 13, 2014 at 05:50 AM
BSL is absurd! Pibbles have a bad reputation MOSTLY because of the Michael VicK crap. DOG FIGHTING! I've been terrorized by a German Shepherd. Bitten by a min pin. Chihuahua. Horse hockey! Here's a reputable site on pibbles: http://www.ywgrossman.com/photoblog/?p=6 ANY dog can turn and bite, esp. if your startle them. Same with cats.
Pam Hamburg January 13, 2014 at 05:52 AM
You yuppies still blow my mind. My pibble will lick someone to death and knock over little kids in his excitement. Bunch of closed minds that believe anything the lame stream media tells you or only reads the headlines.
Pam Hamburg January 13, 2014 at 05:53 AM
Sorry, my link did not post right. Here ya go: http://www.ywgrossman.com/photoblog/?p=676
Mick Plympton March 25, 2014 at 08:18 PM
Dogsbite.org is not a reputable website. There are MANY debunks of it on the web. It should never be used as supporting evidence for any article. http://www.nopitbullbans.com/pages/debunking-dogsbiteorg/


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