Emergency bill filed in Maryland to reverse appeals court ruling

Last year a bill that would reverse the Maryland appeals court ruling that “pure breed pit bulls” are inherently dangerous failed to pass at the last-minute amidst disagreement over what the standard of liability for dog owners should be in Maryland.

The ruling in the case of  Tracey v Solesky stems from a dog attack in which a young child was seriously injured by a dog belonging to a renter.  A protracted legal battle ensued and eventually made it to the highest appeals court in Maryland.  A 4-3 ruling by the court declared that both pure breed and mixed “pit bulls” were inherently dangerous and landlords were automatically liable for damages caused by a tenants “pit bull.”  However, on motion for reconsideration, the ruling was changed to only “pure breed pit bulls,” which was undefined by the court. The ruling has had far-reaching consequences for owners of muscular, short-haired dogs.  Shelters reported increased in-take, and landlords began to threaten eviction.

Legislators had vowed to address the issue in the 2014 legislative session when their attempts in 2012 and 2013 failed.

To be clear, these attempts did not fail because of opposition to addressing the breed based language of the ruling nor did they fail because of any opposition to addressing the liability imposed on third parties by the court of appeals ruling.  They failed because of differing opinions on what if anything should be done with the standard of liability for dog owners, should it revert back to the common law before the ruling, become strict liability or meet in the middle.

HB73, Personal Injury or Death Caused by Dog – Rebuttable Presumption, has been filed as emergency bill and is sponsored by Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Luiz Simmons.   As an emergency bill, if passed through the full legislative process, the bill would go into effect immediately upon passage.

Because of the repeated stalemates between the House and the Senate on what the standard of liability for dog owners should be, HB 73 has been drafted as a compromise between the two sides of the issue.  The bill raises the standard of liability from the former common law, what is commonly referred to as a “one free bite rule,” but stops short of strict liability, giving dog owners the ability to defend any allegations that the dog is dangerous by creating a rebuttable presumption.  Briefly, this means that in the case of a dog related incident a court would assume that the owner knew the dog was dangerous but the owner has the opportunity to prove that they had no prior knowledge of a dogs dangerous or vicious propensities.

HB 73 is set to be heard by the House Judiciary committee on January 23rd at 1pm.

Local groups are urging those who live in the districts of the members of the House Judiciary Committee to reach out as a constituent and ask them to support this compromise bill.  

The committee members district information is below.  If you live in one of these districts contact the appropriate legislator to politely but urgently let them know that Maryland needs a solution. Other Maryland residents are also encouraged to call or write their legislators to urge them to support this bill.

You can find your Representative on the state’s website by clicking the “Who Represents Me?” link on the top right of the column of Representatives.  Legislators on the House Judiciary Committee are listed below alphabetically by name, followed by their county and district number.  Contact information is available by clicking on the name.

Anderson, Curt– Baltimore City, 43
Arora, Sam– Montgomery, 19
Carter, Jill P.-Baltimore City, 41
Clippinger, Luke-Baltimore City, 46
Cluster, John W. E., Jr.-Baltimore, 8
Dumais, Kathleen M. (Vice Chair)-Montgomery, 15
Conaway, Frank M., Jr.-Wicomico and Worcester, 40
Glass, Glen-Hartford and Cecil, 34a
Hough, Michael J.-Frederick and Washington, 3b
Kelly, Kevin-Allegany, 1b
Lee, Susan C.-Montgomery, 16
McComas, Susan K.-Harford, 35b
McDermott, Michael A.-Wicomico and Worcester, 38b
Parrott, Neil-Washington, 2b
Rosenberg, Samuel I.-Baltimore City, 41
Simmons, Luiz R. S. -Montgomery, 17
Smigiel, Michael D., Sr.-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil, and Caroline, 36
Swain, Darren M.-Prince George’s, 24
Valderrama, Kriselda-Prince George’s, 26
Valentino-Smith, Geraldine-Prince George’s, 23a
Vallario, Joseph F., Jr. (Chair)-Prince George’s and Calvert, 27a
Waldstreicher, Jeff-Montgomery, 18

Thank you Pauline and Tami for the information on HB 73.

2 responses to “Emergency bill filed in Maryland to reverse appeals court ruling

  1. It is so difficult not to laugh at the suggestion that anyone would ‘know’ if a dog was dangerous prior to the dog acting out and even more laughable to suggest that a law would be penned that would expect for anyone to know ahead of time if a dog might bite or attack. Of course the exception is with a dog that has bitten or attacked before but even in that case it’s not the dogs’ breed that causes it to bite or attack.

    Even the most docile and well-behaved dogs can bite or attack given the right situation, poor handling of the dog in general and the lack of human intervention prior to the dog acting out. To try to say that a dogs breed or appearance (because typically it’s any dog that ‘appears’ to be a pit bull or pit bull mix) is what makes the dog more likely to be dangerous is fairly insane in my estimation. I fail to understand how it’s so impossible for not only most people but ALL people to see and understand that it is not the dog’s breed, the dog’s size or even the dog itself that determines how safe or dangerous it is to be around but is the human being(s) involved. Even in the case of dogs running the streets at some point these dogs were failed by a human being and so ultimately it truly is we human beings who make the determination how safe or dangerous dogs are.

  2. If anything should be done with the standard of liability for dog owners, should it revert back to the common law .