New Maryland Legislation Does Away With Dog Breed Distinctions

Early last year, this blog discussed a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky, which modified Maryland’s “one bite rule” to specifically exclude pit bulls from its protections. The one bite rule is a negligence doctrine, established in the case of Twigg v. Ryland, 62 Md. 380 (1884), which holds 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. Essentially, this means that after the dog bites one person the owner is put on notice of the animal’s dangerous propensity.

In response to the decision, pit bull lovers began pressuring Maryland legislators to adopt a measure that would eliminate breed distinctions such as the one established by Solesky. Late last month, pit bull proponents scored a big victory when the Maryland Senate unanimously passed S.B. 247, which removes the breed specific standard and essentially codifies the one bite rule for all dogs.

S.B. 247 represents a middle ground between positions taken by the House and the Senate. As this blog has mentioned previously, both the Maryland House of Delegates and Maryland Senate have introduced bills in the past year related to this issue. The House bill would have done away with the one bite rule in favor of considering all dogs inherently dangerous, while the Senate bill would have allowed dog owners to avoid liability by showing by “clear and convincing” evidence that the dog was not dangerous before the incident.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.7 million dog bites occur each year in the U.S., resulting in approximately 16 fatalities. Dogsbite.org, a dog bite victims’ advocacy group, estimates that, between 2005 and 2013, 283 Americans died as the result of dog bite injuries. Of those deaths, 176 (62.2%) were caused by pit bulls.

According to a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “controlled studies have not identified this breed group [pit bulls] as disproportionately dangerous.” The study further concluded that “it has not been demonstrated that breed-specific bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community” and other factors, such youth of the victim and familiarity of the animal, are more reliably associated with dog bite injuries.

Regardless of breed, dogs that are improperly cared for or unsupervised can pose a significant danger to the community, particularly young children, who are drawn to animals and cannot protect themselves if attacked. Victims of dog attacks can suffer severe injuries, resulting in the need for long-term medical treatment and reconstructive surgery.

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.