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.