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Md. House unanimously approves dog bite legislation

By Kate Havard,

The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would make it easier to hold dog owners—not just pit bull owners—accountable for injuries caused by their pets.

The bill provides a small measure of victory to pit bull owners, singled out after a Maryland court ruled last spring that this particular breed was “inherently dangerous.”

The measure would make it easier to hold all dog owners liable for injuries caused by their pets but also gives owners the opportunity to defend their pet in court. In the past, plaintiffs had to prove that the dog was dangerous. Now, dog owners will have to prove that their dog is not dangerous.

The bill overturns a Maryland Court of Appeals decision, Tracey v. Solesky, which arose out of a 2007 incident in which a pit bull mauled a 10-year-old Towson boy.

The 2012 decision made owners of pit bulls (and “third parties,” like landlords) automatically liable in the event that their dog bit or injured someone.

Since then, some landlords have been forcing their tenants to either get rid of their pit bull or move out.

Animal rights groups protested the appeals court decision, saying that dogs who had never bitten anyone were being put down. They also argued that the breed-specific language unfairly targeted a group of canines who may not even technically be a “breed.”

The House bill does not contain breed-specific language and does not hold landlords accountable for the actions of a tenant’s dog.

The assembly took up the cause during the August 2012 special session but failed to reach a decision in time. Thursday, the bill passed with no debate.

“A little bit of time cures a lot of problems,” Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the committee that oversaw the House’s legislation, said after the vote. “Hopefully, the dogs won’t be biting anymore. Now they can’t afford to.”

The bill will now advance to the Maryland state senate, where it is also expected to pass easily.

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