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Legislation Would Ease Pressure on Pit Bull Owners and Landlords

Bills in the House of Delegates and Senate would create a new standard where all dog owners are presumed liable for dog attacks, regardless of the breed of the animal.

Legislation overriding a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that made landlords liable for pit bull attacks, and put owners at risk of being evicted or having to give up their dogs, will be heard Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

Identical House and Senate bills seek to create a new standard where all dog owners in civil action cases, regardless of the dog’s breed, are presumed liable for attacks unless owners can prove they did everything possible to avoid the attack, said Sen. Brian Frosh, sponsor of the Senate bill. It would also reverse the strict liability on landlords.

“The interest groups: pet owners, landlords, and animal rights groups
are pleased with it,” said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who is also chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

In April, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Tracey v. Solesky that owning pit bulls or allowing them on your property is an “inherently dangerous activity.” The ruling made owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes, as well as their landlords, automatically liable for dog attacks. In August, the court narrowed the ruling to include only pure-breed pit bulls.

The decision was part of a case involving Dominic Solesky, who was 10-years old when he was attacked by a pit bull named Clifford while playing Nerf tag in a Towson alley in 2007.

Solesky suffered severe wounds to his leg, which the Court of Appeals called "gruesome." The boy underwent five hours of surgery and multiple blood transfusions during a 17-day hospital stay.

The Humane Society of the United States is urging the legislature to pass the bill quickly. Following the April 2012 court decision, some Maryland shelters saw an influx of pit bulls being given up for adoption when landlords throughout the state began banning them for fear of being sued if the dogs attacked.

“One of the most important things this bill does is it removes the liability for landlords and other third parties,” said Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Because of the strict liability for landlords, people throughout Maryland were given warning that they had to get rid of their dogs or move out.”

Prior to the Solesky case, Maryland courts used the “one-bite rule,” which said dog owners were only at fault for an attack if they knew their dogs had vicious tendencies.

During an August special session, the Maryland House considered a bill that would have revoked liability for landlords and placed dog owners under strict liability for attacks unless they could prove the victim provoked the dog into attacking. The bill did not pass.

“This bill is a really fair compromise given what was being considered during the special session in August,” Santelli said. “It’s fair for both victims of dog bites and dog owners.”

Controversial breed-specific legislation has been around for decades. As early as 1987, the city of Yakima, WA, banned pit bulls.

Over time, cities and counties nationwide have passed various breed-specific laws, ranging from requiring owners to register the dogs, to completely banning breeds. Prince George’s County outlawed new pit bulls in 1997.

In contrast to the Maryland court’s stance, Virginia’s state code explicitly prohibits local governments from labeling specific breeds as dangerous. The law allows local governments to regulate ownership of dangerous dogs, but says dogs cannot be banned or labeled dangerous on the basis of breed alone.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear the House version of the bill at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to hear Frosh's bill at 1 p.m. Feb. 5.

Baltimore pit bull advocacy group B-More Dog is organizing a rally
Wednesday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Lawyer’s Mall prior to the House hearing.


Patch Associate Regional Editor Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.

RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:49 AM
@FIFA: You are WRONG! Making landlords liable for dog bite damages protects thousands of kids and adults. Every apartment building that allows pit bulls places children and other residents in unreasonable and preventable danger. If landlords knew they were liable for damages caused by their residents' pit bulls, they would no longer allow pit bulls. Within a short time -- as happened in Miami-Dade, Florida (which has had a pit bull ban in effect since 1989) -- pit bull attacks would cease because those who owned them wouldn't be able to find a place to live.
Carol February 02, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Landlord should not be held responsible for dog bites! When a person or person's rent a place to someone that is their in a way as long as they are paying for it. When you reant a car do they tell you who or what you can put in the car....same as a Landlord he they rent it to you unless they tell you up-front you can't do this and such. But they are not there watching everything you take in or out of your rental property. Do owners need to be held responsible unless someone ore something is done to that dog to provoke something then that would I think be up to the courts to take care of. I don't own a dog but my husband has to clean some ones dog poop up every so often out of our own yard because of they are too lazy to do it, in an area where you are to clean up after your dog... so say's our HOA. Be safe everyone and watch out for those dogs.
Wesley February 11, 2013 at 05:26 PM
@Roastpuppy, you're an idiot!!! I am a "pitbull owner" and I have all the insurances that are required of me, as a homeowner. I have owned my dog since she was 7 weeks old. I believe a " well behaved" dog, is a good dog. My pit has never attacked another animal or human and my neighbors are not fearful for their lives because I own a "dangerous dog". My pitbull was trained to walk off leash when she was young and remains to walk off leash in my neighborhood. She loves kids and other animals. She doesn't chase rabbits or squirrels and she was raised with two cats. Now tell me how she is so much more dangerous than any other breed of dog. Tell me how I'm reckless for owning a specific type of dog. I assume you've never been around a pitbull on a personal basis, I assume you're a liberal idiot that argues against every issue you don't fully comprehend. I am a pitbull owner and I feel every dog owner should be held fully responsible for his/her dog's actions.
Tony Solesky February 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Wesley, You sound like a excellent dog owner. The problem is that anyone who holds a belief that nothing can be gathered from a dogs breed as a excellent predictor of behavior should not own any dog. Training is the net effect of owner input onto a dogs breeding. Obedience training can be imposed upon any dog but has nothing to do with breed training. You can't train a Pit bull to hunt like a beagle or a begale to fight like a pIt bull. Every single breed that exists has a standard and a behavioral and breed conformation charter which is what Pedigree is all about. This is what the word breed means. Pit bulls are inherently dangerous. Not inherently bad or inherently disobedient.
William Thomas Capps Jr. June 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Had a Pitt for years and he never harmed anything. It is the Pitt owners not the dog! I taught my Pitt (Harley) how not to attack cats. I also feed him low protein dog food. These laws about pitt’s are wrong. Go after the idiot owners not the pooch.

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