Last summer a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals declared all pit bulls and pit bull mixes “inherently dangerous,” which caused quite a stir among their owners and animal advocates. It seemed the decision would be overturned, but now lawmakers can’t seem to agree on a compromise.
The original ruling was the result of an attack on 10-year-old Dominic Solesky in 2007, whose family sued the dog owners landlord, Dorothy M. Tracey in Tracey v. Solesky.
Before the ruling all dogs had to bite once before being declared dangerous and victims of an attack who wanted to file a lawsuit had to prove that the dog’s owner or landlord knew the dog had a history of being aggressive. Under the new ruling, anyone who wants to sue will only need to prove that owners and landlords knew the dog was a pit bull and they will be financially responsible for injuries.
Animal advocates and pit bull supporters opposed the ruling, worried about whether owners would have to face eviction or give up their dogs, while rescues and shelters worried about how to deal with a potential influx of pit bulls. The Humane Society of the United States believed the ruling would affect 70,000 dogs in the state.
Later the court partially reversed its ruling, removing pit bull mixes, but that still raised concerns about the potential for even more problems and confusion since there’s no such thing as a purebred pit bull. The term ‘pit bull’ can be applied to a number of breeds, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and they’re all easily misidentified.
In January, lawmakers reached a breed-neutral compromise that seemed fair and would hold all dog owners accountable for their dogs and give victims their day in court, while allowing owners the chance to defend themselves, and their dogs, in court and prove they had no history of aggression instead of being automatically held liable.
Now, the compromise is falling apart and pit bull parents are once again facing increased discrimination and the possibility of losing their homes or their dogs thanks to two legislators, Senator Brian E. Frosh and Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, who can’t seem to agree on what should be done or whose fault it is the compromise fell apart.
According to the Baltimore Sun, “Simmons charged Friday that an amendment added to the bill Thursday in the Senate committee altered the deal. He said the amendment – proposed by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin and adopted 7-4 -would expose hundreds of thousands of owners of other breeds of dog to substantially the same strict liability standard as the court applied to pit bulls.”
Frosh reportedly fought the amendment, but everything’s still up in the air leaving dog owners in limbo as landlords work on changing their policies to ban pit bulls.
Was the breed-neutral compromise fair? Should pit bull owners have to face strict liability? Should landlords, or any third party, ever be held liable for a dog bite?
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