By: Ira Sherman
In early March, the Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill that overhauls
the current status of Pit Bull liability in the state of Maryland. In
June of 2012, we
Tracy v. Solesky, the Court of Appeals decision that imposed strict liability on the owner
of any Pit Bull that attacked and injured a human being. The benefit of
this decision was that it eliminated the "first bite" rule –
meaning that an injured plaintiff no longer had to prove that the dog
had previously bitten another human. This rule frequently created an insurmountable
hurdle because often the most likely person to know of a previous bite,
the owner, would never divulge the information and would therefore avoid
This case was met with a strong backlash on social media, with advocates
stating that Pit Bulls as a breed should not be unfairly discriminated
against. They also spread campaign materials stating that it was the upbringing
and training, rather than the breed type, that determined aggressiveness.
This campaign caused such a strong enough effect on the Maryland legislature
that it completely did away with breed distinctions in the new bill.
This bill does not bring back the "first bite" rule, but
plaintiffs are now required to show that the dog previously exhibited a
propensity for violence, such as aggressive behavior. Consequently, on a case by case basis, a judge or jury will determine
what, aside from a bite, constitutes aggressive behavior. The bill, however,
does have one plaintiff friendly clause, which imposes strict liability
on dogs who attack and injure a human while running at large. This coincides
with the mindset that proper upbringing and training determines a dog's
aggressiveness because a responsible owner will not allow an aggressive
dog to run free, and a responsible owner will also provide the training
needed to minimize or eliminate aggressive tendencies.
Unfortunately, approximately 70% of dog bites occur on the owner's
property, rather than when the dog is running free. So, the majority of
dog bite cases will face the difficult task of showing that the dog had
a past propensity for violence. We'll have to watch the evolving case
law to see if this turns into yet another insurmountable hurdle.
If you were injured as a result of a dog bite, please contact the Maryland
personal injury lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.
to discuss your rights.