The Maryland General Assembly has, on the third attempt, passed legislation that overrules a state high court ruling that Pit Bulls are an “inherently dangerous” breed of dog and should be held to a stricter liability standard for bites than other breeds.
With passage of HB 73, all dog owners will be held liable for their dog’s injuries, regardless of the breed. It also removes liability for landlords, unless the landlord knew or should have known that the dog was actually dangerous. Injuries committed while a dog is running loose will still incur owners’ strict liability.
Advocates for Pit Bulls are claiming it is liberation for dog owners. “It gives us an equal footing with the rest of the breeds and we’re not locked down for owning these dogs,” said Pit Bull advocate Eric Vocke.
Not all dog owners share his enthusiasm. A comment on Facebook reads, “…now every dog owner is exempt from the previous one-bite rule, basically punishing all dog owners thanks to the pit bulls/HSUS and all the others who supported it.”
Ledy VanKavage, the Best Friends Animal Society attorney working to overturn breed-specific legislation all over the country, reminds us that “Any dog can bite. The simple truth is breed is not a factor in bites.”
But there are those who disagree based upon statistics and increasing unprovoked attacks. Coleen Lynn of DogsBite.orgtweeted, “In the first quarter of 2014, dogs killed 13 Americans. If this pace continues, there will be 52 fatalities in 2014. “
Darrin Stephens posted, “14 People dead by dog attack in 2014. Pit bull type dogs killed 12 of them. Nine of the dead are children.” He placed stars by the names of three of the children and wrote, “Stars indicate people killed by a ‘family’ pit bull – ones that had been raised and cherished as an indoor pet, ‘never showed aggression before’, and knew the vic.”
The person who best understands the impact of the Assembly ruling is Tony Solesky, whose son Dominic was mauled by a pit bull in the alley behind his red brick house in East Towson, an attack that resulted in trauma surgery at John Hopkins Hospital and a year of rehabilitation, and scars that still cause people to ask “what happened.”
In his e-book, Dangerous by Default, Solesky describes what happened to two Towson, Maryland, children in April 2007:
“The first victim, nine year old Scotty Mason, was mauled in the face and shoulders, then threatened by the dog owner not to tell. The second child, ten year old Dominic Solesky, accompanied by two playmates, attempted to rescue young Scotty. The dog chased the three, caught, attacked and mauled ten year old Dominic, inflicting severe wounds. The most extreme injury, was a life threatening two inch tear to his femoral artery. Dominic, also abandoned by the dog owner, half conscious, bleeding profusely and surrounded by pools of blood, attempted to crawl home. He was discovered in the alley by neighbors responding to his screams and those summoned by his playmates…”
In 2012, the lawsuit Tracey v. Solesky, stemming from that gruesome attack, resulted in Maryland’s highest court opining that Pit Bulls and their mixes are “inherently dangerous” and held both the owner and landlord “strictly liable” for any attacks.
Tony speaks out on the new law on Facebook and is reportedly waging a write-in campaign for election now. Here is his take on the new law:
“It means that for most states for well over a century victims of dog bites had to prove that the dog owner was on notice--that the dog had an issue--in order to collect compensation. If there was no indication of previous behavior or the victim could not prove there was a previous incident, a victim could not get compensated for their injuries.
This became known as the "ONE FREE BITE" rule. It meant that there is not actually one free bite but the standard for proof was so hard that it might as well be as if the first bite was free…Finally a dog breed came along that is so extreme and dangerous that the court said, “No way can someone say they didn’t know a Pit bull could harm you; and that eliminated the "One Free Bite" for Pit bulls.
“Now they have said, “Let’s remove the strict liability for just Pit bulls and make all dog owners--not victims--have to prove they did not know their dog could harm.
“I believe that most people will probably be able to prove they did not know, but maybe a jury will say 'Too bad, it is your dog--it is your problem.' That said, I do not see how a Pit Bull owner in Maryland is going to be able to prove they did not know; so, in that regard I believe little has changed for them and in fact Pit bulls may have now pissed of the dog-owning community more than ever. This could be a really good thing against the breed in that regard.”
He added in response to questions about other states, “Only the next couple of dog-bite cases will tell. As far as the other 49 states, yes, they will still be able to cite the ruling of the court, as well as use it as a guide for legislation when and if they ever do.”
“The short story is that as far as the ruling goes it is as solid as it ever was for all of the other states. Only Maryland has changed their law in response to it.”