Maryland legislators reach compromise on pit bull legislation

January 17, 2013

Maryland lawmakers plan to announce legislation Thursday that would nullify an April 2012 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals that declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous” and made their owners legally responsible for dog attacks.

The bill, which has not been filed, would still hold dog owners responsible, but it would allow them to defend themselves in court instead of automatically being liable. And it would apply to all dog owners, not just owners of pit bulls.

The bill, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, comes as a relief to pet owners and animal rights activists across the state. Because the April court decision included strict liability for landlords and “third parties” as well as pit bull owners, many landlords were forcing tenants to choose between vacating their homes or surrendering their pets — which in many cases meant that the dogs would have to be put down.

“We had at least 40 people come in [to surrender their pets] specifically because of the ruling and several hundred more because of landlord issues,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter.

The court ruling stemmed from an April 2007 incident in which a 10-year-old Towson boy was mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull. The boy’s family sued the dog’s owner and the owner’s landlord.

The case ended up before the Court of Appeals, which ruled that owners of pit bulls are automatically liable for attacks by their dogs because the breed is “inherently dangerous.”

The General Assembly took up the case during a special legislative session in August, but adjourned without agreeing on whether to overturn, amend or keep the law.

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