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Maryland Politics
Posted at 06:15 PM ET, 08/15/2012

Pit bull owners in Maryland left in limbo, as lawmakers fail to agree on rules

Maryland lawmakers may have reached a deal on a Las Vegas-style casino for Prince George’s County but they adjourned Wednesday without agreement on how to overturn a court ruling that has left thousands of Maryland pit bull owners in legal limbo.

A recent ruling by Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous.” It also made Maryland the only state in the country to hold owners and landlords of just one breed strictly liable for injuries caused by their pets.


Prada, a 4-year-old pit bull mix. (Mark Humphrey - AP)
The ruling is temporarily on hold while an insurance company asks the court to reconsider, but it could take full effect at any time. Animal rights groups say that could force a crackdown by landlords and make renters choose between keeping their homes or their pets.

Both the Senate and House passed emergency measures to upend the ruling, but the Senate late Tuesday declared the differences between the bills too great to work out a compromise before the four-day session ended.

The Senate on Friday had responded to the ruling by passing stronger liability standards for all dog owners, like statues that exist in more than 30 other states.

Under the Senate bill, Maryland would have shed its status as a so-called “free bite” state, like Virginia, where owners are often only liable for a first attack if a victim can prove the animal had a history of violence.

The legislation had several exceptions, including for property owners who post signs warning “Beware of Dog.”

House lawmakers, however, sought to largely keep existing law intact and to craft a thorough new rule on dog-owner liablity when the legislature reconvenes in January.

As a temporary measure, the House bill would have created strict liability only for owners of unleashed dogs “running at large,” no matter the breed.

By  |  06:15 PM ET, 08/15/2012

 
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