Maryland pit bull ruling: careful what you ask for

by Walter Olson on June 21, 2012

Last month Maryland’s highest court, adopting what is known as a “breed-specific” standard, declared pit bulls inherently dangerous and subject to strict liability for their owners. Humane and rescue activists were alarmed at the prospect of insurance-rate pressure on pit owners and an influx into animal shelters of surrendered pets who, even if well-behaved, might prove unadoptable and end up euthanized. They should have been careful what they asked for. A panel of the Maryland House of Delegates headed by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) has now taken up the issue and apparently plans to address the complained-of breed disparity by proposing to extend strict liability to all breeds of dog, abolishing the longstanding “one-bite” rule that shields owners from responsibility where a pet has not previously been known to cause trouble. Why is it somehow not surprising that in Annapolis the views of attorneys would hold more sway and those of dog-rescue folks less? [AP, Julie Scharper/Baltimore Sun, more background: Miller.

{ 3 comments }

1 John Bratt 06.21.12 at 9:51 am

Here’s the best rationale for strict liability for owners for dog bites: it’s your dog.

In cases where the bite is truly the fault of the bitten person (they climbed in the dog’s pen, for example), Maryland accepts assumption of the risk as a defense in strict liability cases.

I never thought the one-bite rule made sense. It’s a dog. You know it may bite, just like you know it will most likely bark and sniff other dogs’ asses. You don’t need to have had it happen once to know these things. The law assumes people know ice is slippery, water is wet, fire is hot, etc. I don’t see a huge difference in assuming that you’re on notice your dog might bite somebody.

2 BaltimoreGal (Ann) (@BaltimoreGal) 06.21.12 at 10:49 am

Speaking as one of those “pit bull” people I am absolutely fine with strict liability as applied evenly to all dogs. It seems to work fine in the 30+ other states it exists in. When applied to one undefined and completely undetermined type of breed (seriously- no legal definition in MD, much less in the US) it is useless, much less discriminatory.

The more problematic part of the law was applying the liability to landlords. This was the first time this has ever happened and immediately legal advice was being doled out to property managers and landlords that pit bulls or mixes (again, completely undefined) should be banned or the owners kicked out of properties. One group even advised that rottweilers should also be banned since they were the second most dangerous dog (note- from quite faulty evidence). This part is the more immediate problem and must be addressed as quickly as possible.

3 Uno Hu 06.22.12 at 1:29 pm

The brouhaha arising from the situation is the perfect example of what happens when a people are allowed too much liberty. The clear solution – BAN ALL DOGS, every breed, every type, everywhere. And while you’re at it, ban cats too. And think of the revenue opportunities that can be had by licensing fish, turtles, and birds.

There’s just no end to the good that the government can to to for us if we would just surrender those silly liberties and empower them without limit!!

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