New Legislation Regarding Dog Attacks Fails In Maryland General Assembly

A few months ago, this blog discussed the controversial Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Tracey v. Solesky, which singled out pit bulls as an “inherently dangerous” breed of dog and excluded them from Maryland’s traditional “one bite rule.”

The one bite rule is a negligence doctrine which states that the owner or keeper of a dog may be held liable for injuries caused by the animal only if he has actual or constructive knowledge of its ferocious or dangerous propensities. Accordingly, most dogs are afforded “one bite” before they are known to have a ferocious or dangerous propensity. Most other states have adopted strict liability statutes with regard to dog bites that impose liability on the owner even when they are not at fault for the attack.

In Tracey, the Court held that it was no longer necessary for a pit bull’s owner to know that the dog is dangerous because “its aggressive and vicious nature and capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries” makes them inherently dangerous.

In February, the Maryland House of Delegates introduced a new bill that would do away with the one bite rule in favor of considering all dogs inherently dangerous. If passed, the new legislation would create a presumption that all dog owners, regardless of the canine’s breed, would be presumed liable for any injury caused by the animal.

The Maryland Senate later introduced a different bill that includes a provision allowing dog owners to avoid liability by showing by “clear and convincing” evidence that the dog was not dangerous before the incident. The opposition this legislation claimed that this standard of proof was too high and was almost impossible for a dog owner to establish.

Earlier this month, however, the House and Senate changed course by releasing a compromise bill, which would impose strict liability for injuries caused by dogs of any breed to children under the age of 13. The legislation was defeated on the same day it was introduced after a debate between two Montgomery county delegates erupted into shouting match, a vote on the bill was delayed, and it never happened before the midnight adjournment.

One of the bill’s strongest opponents, Delegate Benjamin F. Kramer called on Governor Martin O’Malley to call a special session of the General Assembly to address the issue. He stated that the legislature has made a “sincere effort” to correct the Tracey decision, but that “legitimate differences of opinion, as to the appropriate standard for civil liability for dog owners, whose dog inflicts a bite injury on another person, has kept a legislative resolution to this issue from achieving passage.”

Dog attacks are particularly dangerous as they can result in severe injury, permanent disfigurement, and, in the worst cases, death. The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing the victims of dog attacks. If you or someone you know has been injured in a dog attack, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.