By Mary Ellen Flynn, Attorney at Law
Are pit bulls and other dogs that are part pit-bulls “inherently dangerous” ?
Should “strict liability” apply to owners of dogs that are pit-bulls, and part bulls ?
Should landlords of such dogs also be strictly liable when these dogs inflict injury on their property?
The answer is YES, in Maryland, as of last week. In a 4-3 opinion, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest court in Maryland), decided in the case, Tracey vs. Solesky, that victims of pit bulls do not need to prove that the owners should have known that their dog was dangerous, but rather the sheer fact that a dog is a pit bull is enough to hold the owners liable (and by “pit bull,” the Court of Appeals has said that this decision also applies to dogs who are part pit bull.) This is different as to how Maryland law applies to all other dogs. In Maryland, we have what is known as the “one bite law.” In other words, in Maryland, if any other type of dog bite goes to court, then that dog owner is not held responsible unless the victim can prove that the dog owner knew that his/her dog is dangerous (such as by a previous bite or other inappropriate aggressive behavior).
Imposing strict liability to dogs is not unusual. Thirty-five (35) other states impose some kind of strict liability on dog owners, regardless of the dog’s breed or appearance. However, the new law in Maryland is different because this Court of Appeals case imposes strict liability to just one type of dog, the pit bull.