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Maryland property owners strictly liable for their pets?

Maryland pet owners may soon be strictly liable for damages if their dog causes injuries to a person. Maryland lawmakers are closer to finalizing legislation responding to a state court ruling that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous" and that owners may be liable for damages, even when the dog has no history of aggressive behavior.

Depending on the final version of the legislature's proposal, Maryland law may hold all residents who own or harbor a dog accountable for damages in the event of a dog bite, even when a pet owner is not negligent. The only exception would be if there is evidence that the animal was provoked into attacking.

Another version of the same proposal would only impose so-called "strict liability" on owners when the owner's animal as "at large." A legislative task force is currently meeting to solve the differences in the two proposals and working to reach a compromise that would satisfy all interested parties.

The legislative action was prompted by a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision that found property owners and landlords can be held liable for pit bull attacks. The decision came after a tragic case involving a 10-year-old boy that was almost killed by a neighbor's pit bull in 2007. The court found that pit bulls and cross breeds of the dogs are inherently dangerous compared to other breeds.

Fearing liability landlords and homeowners' associations are banning pit bulls, forcing owners to move or give up their pets. One Baltimore landlord flat out ordered its residents to get rid of their pit bulls. Depending on what version of the law gets passed, many Maryland families may have to make some difficult choices about whether to find a new home for their animals.

On the other hand, those who get injured in a dog attack oftentimes have medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. They may also experience considerable pain and suffering. Some may argue that these people deserve just compensation for their injuries, and that they should not have to bear the burden of proving that a person not only had the care and control of a dangerous dog but also was actually negligent in watching over the animal.

Source: Washington Examiner, "Maryland pit bull task force wrangles over liability," Matt Connolly, Oct. 25, 2012

1 Comment

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