Tort Law

Are Pit Bulls Inherently Dangerous? Motion Asks Maryland High Court to Reconsider Strict Liability

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Owners of pit bulls in Maryland are grappling with a state high court decision holding that the breed is inherently dangerous.

State lawmaker Heather Mizeur, who backed unsuccessful legislation to overturn the April decision, tells the Baltimore Sun that she has heard from pit bull owners who are getting eviction notices. Animal shelters are also concerned about liability. A task force is now drafting proposed legislation to limit the scope of the ruling, Mizeur said.

A motion to reconsider has been filed with the court, delaying the effect the decision, according to an opinion issued this week by the state attorney general.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in the case of a pit bull named Clifford who escaped from his pen and attacked two boys on the same day. One of them was Dominic Solesky, who spent 17 days in the hospital and a year in rehabilitation recovering from the mauling. His family sued the dog owner’s landlord.

A lower court judge had granted judgment for the landlord because there was no negligence. The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in a ruling that established in the present case, and going forward, there is no need in tort cases to prove a defendant landlord or dog owner has knowledge that a pit bull is aggressive.

“We are modifying the Maryland common law of liability as it relates to attacks by pit bull and cross-bred pit bull dogs against humans,” the high court said in its decision (PDF). “When an owner or a landlord is proven to have knowledge of the presence of a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull (as both the owner and landlord did in this case) or should have had such knowledge, a prima facie case is established. It is not necessary that the landlord (or the pit bull’s owner) have actual knowledge that the specific pit bull involved is dangerous. Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous.”

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