Maryland pit bull law: “Lawyers will have the last bite”

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2013

In the aftermath of a controversial decision by the state’s highest court (earlier here, here, here, here), etc.) the Maryland legislature is proceeding in its task of devising new rules to govern lawsuits over dog bite injuries:

But the House and Senate versions differ markedly on legal liability for a pet owner when his or her dog bites someone. The House bill would allow an owner to show a “preponderance of the evidence” that a pet did not have a tendency to bite. The Senate version requires a stricter legal standard of “clear and convincing” proof that the dog is not aggressive — making it easier for victims of bites to sue and win.

It does not require a law degree to figure out that without clear rules on what makes a dog safe, lawyers will see bite victims as cash cows. [Sen. Bobby] Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, [who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee that crafted the bill,] apparently already does. A visit to his website, http://www.bobbyzirkinlaw.com/, makes it clear. One of the first images is a white dog that looks like a pit bull, teeth bared, lunging against its leash.

After noting that victims of dog bites should seek medical attention, he suggests they “Call the Law Office of Bobby Zirkin at 410-356-4455 immediately and come in for your free consultation on this important matter.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, also practices with an injury firm, though his own practice tends toward commercial disputes. [Marta Mossburg, Frederick News-Post] Incidentally, the weekly adopt-an-animal feature of the same newspaper is now filled with pictures of ownerless dogs with pit bull lineage.

{ 8 comments }

1 wfjag 03.26.13 at 11:00 am

I looked at Zirkin’s website and the dog scared me and I fell down. There was no warning on the website that I shouldn’t fall down. Maybe I can get the same lawyer who is representing the guy suing Dr. Oz to sue Zirkin for me?

Dr. Oz suit is another reason people hate lawyers
http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/opinion/obeidallah-lawyers/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
[and]
http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/man-sues-dr-oz-burned-feet-article-1.1292333

2 Big Dog 04.02.13 at 11:20 am

There are lots of lawyers in Annapolis. Including the sponsor of the House bill Simmons. I think Zirkin’s opinion is that dog owner’s should be strictly liable for dog bites. That is not good for lawyers. Good for victims. Not so good for attorneys as victims wouldn’t need a lawyer to prove their case. Get your facts straight before speaking.

3 Walter Olson 04.02.13 at 12:43 pm

“[Del. Luis] Simmons said trial lawyers prodded the Senate to adopt the stricter standard.” Curious that would happen if as Big Dog assures us the change is “not good for lawyers.” Lawyers will get involved in serious bite cases either way since there will be the issue of proving quantum of damages. If the Senate version prevails, they just won’t have to work as hard to prove one element of the case.

4 Mad Dog 04.02.13 at 12:49 pm

I’ve been told that the House member fighting to keep the “one free bite” rule for Pit Bulls and other dogs, Luiz Simmons, is himself a trial lawyer who has handled a lot of these dog bite cases too! Seems like this silly negligence standard is the real Full Employment for Lawyers Act because you will need lawyers fighting back and forth over what’s “reasonable” or not. People should be responsible for their own dogs and I don’t care whether it’s a pit bull, a poodle, a German Sheperd, or a Golden Retriever. It takes a really sneaky lawyer to blame other lawyers who are fighting to do the right thing. Thanks Senator Zirkin for standing up for dog bite victims and the public interest!!!

5 Big Dog 04.02.13 at 12:54 pm

Walter’s comment makes sense to no one but Walter. Strict liability, as proposed by the Senate, would be horrible for trial lawyers. It would be a damages only case and the need for lawyers would be zero in most cases. Zirkin is proposing something that is BAD for lawyers like himself. The House version keeps it complicated meaning lawyers will continue getting the cases. True, strict liability is good for victims. Walter, you are speaking like a true insurance company adjuster. It is funny that Simmons, who is a trial lawyer who handles dog bite cases, is trying to keep these cases available for lawyers like himself, and then accusing the Senate of trying to help trial lawyers. Only in politics. Don’t fall for it Walter. You’re better than that.

6 Ron Miller 04.02.13 at 1:42 pm

Big Dog, I am a personal injury lawyer. A large portion of my cases are cases where liability is not in dispute. If you have a a serious injury case of any kind where liability is not in dispute, you are going to get a better outcome by filing suit where the offers often double and triple before trial. The idea that strict liability is good for victims and bad for lawyers is just wrong. I mean, I like that narrative because it makes us look good. But it is just wrong.

I’ve thought and written about this topic a good bit. Strict liability really does make sense from the standpoint of overall justice but I worry about the chilling impact increasing liability will have on dog ownership. Maryland has enough unwanted pets for which no home is available. I fear this list getting longer. Would strict liability do this? I don’t know. I am pretty confident that landlord liability is a bad idea for this very reason.

7 Tom Paxton 04.13.13 at 10:16 am

While everyone seems focused on liability nothing is being done to protect the public from Pit Bulls and other dogs bred to attack and kill. In most Pit Bull attacks the owner has no idea how to control a Pit Bull once it becomes aggressive. Pit Bulls attack by instinct, not by training. If the owners were licensed and trained to handle dangerous dogs the number of severe injuries from dog attacks would be reduced. This is a public safety issue and should be treated as such.

8 gitarcarver 04.13.13 at 9:04 pm

Tom,

Pit bulls are not “bred to attack and kill.” According to many studies, put bulls don’t even bite as much as other breeds.

(See once source here: http://news.discovery.com/animals/zoo-animals/pit-bulls-dangerous-1205151.htm)

“Inherently dangerous” implies that all pit bulls are, through genetics or their environment, born with a vicious streak. The science does not appear to support this.

For example, a University of Pennsylvania study on dogs found that the top three biters of humans were actually smaller dogs: Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell terriers.

What may make the pit bull “dangerous” is the strong jaw muscles and the “hold and shake” tactic the dog uses in a fight. That trait may result in more damage to people and animals, but it doesn’t mean the bred itself is inherently violent.

The science seems to be that a bit bull is no more dangerous to attack than any other breed, but when attacked or attacking, has the ability to cause great injury.

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