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Md. Dog Owner Liability Bill Compromise Being Worked Out

The legislation gives owners a chance to go before a jury in the event of a dog bite. The bill would apply to all dog breeds, not just pit bulls and other types under scrutiny for attacks.

A new bill regarding dog owner liability is working its way through the General Assembly; it passed through the Senate but the House must still review the measure. (Credit: Cherokee Animal Shelter)
A new bill regarding dog owner liability is working its way through the General Assembly; it passed through the Senate but the House must still review the measure. (Credit: Cherokee Animal Shelter)

Maryland lawmakers are working on a compromise bill that would hold all dog owners liable for a bite, regardless of the breed.

The legislation is a reaction to a Court of Appeals ruling in the case of then 10-year-old Dominic Solesky of Towson, who was playing in the alley behind his home when his neighbor’s pit bull climbed a fence and attacked him, reports The Washington Post. The 2007 attack severed Dominic’s femoral artery, scarred his face and body, and hampered the mobility of one leg.

The Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that pit bull owners are liable for bites even if there is no prior evidence that their dogs might bite — and their landlords can be liable, too, the newspaper says. The decision prompted many pit bull owners to send their dogs to shelters and some landlords ordered tenants to get rid of their pit bulls or move out.

Legislators are set to approve a measure that would apply regardless of breed and presumes that all dog owners can be held liable for a bite even if a dog has not bitten anyone before. But the legislation also would allow the pet owner to avoid liability if they can prove their dogs had been docile except for the biting incident.

The Maryland Senate unanimously passed legislation several weeks ago that would hold owners of all dog breeds liable for bites, but allow owners to challenge that liability in court and let a jury decide. The House has passed its own version of the bill. Both chambers must approve a single bill before it can go to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to be signed into law.

The bill has been the subject of lengthy debate. In what lawmakers called a “compromise” between the version approve by the House and the Senate, the measure holds the owner liable if their dog attacks someone, but the owner also has a right to offer a defense to a court jury.

The measure states that evidence that the dog caused an injury or death creates the rebuttable presumption of whether the owner knew, or should have known, that the dog had dangerous propensities.

Dennis Gilpin March 25, 2014 at 08:25 AM
Sharon. To harass any animal will get a negative response. I am a dog lover and seeing a dog being hurt for anyone's entertainment doesn't make ant sense...at all. If the father saw what the kids were doing why didn't he immediately stop it ? Dogs can be taught to overcome anxiety resulting from abuse but it takes time.In your case, you were a responsible pet owner but, many are not. Many pet owners teach their dogs to be aggressive and try to defend their behavior when they injure someone. These irresponsible people will also unleash these animals to run free exposing the public to a very dangerous situation. Dogs will only feed off to what they are taught. If your dog bites someone the owner is responsible to look into the reason for the bite. If it is attributed to an action from abuse it is only defending itself.
Roger March 25, 2014 at 08:34 AM
All dog owners should have insurance. Just like cars. And guns.
lee77 March 25, 2014 at 12:31 PM
Pit bull owners do not have the money to pay the premiums necessary to insure their land sharks. Furthermore, making dog owners liable for the actions of their pets means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to pit bull owners because they know, and the legislators SHOULD know, there is no way to get blood out of a turnip!
Alan Burdette Jr. April 07, 2014 at 08:11 PM
First things first. Dogs are considered property by law. I am a farmer. I pay insurance to own my cattle. Not because I am ordered to by law but, because if they get out and cause damage to other peoples property, run someone down, or get hit by a car I do not want to be sued. Of course it is not cheap, but it is cheaper than the worse case scenario. If a pit bull owner can not afford to ad insurance for the liability of their dog, than maybe they should not have one. Out of all the breeds of dogs out there why a pit bull. It is statistically shown these breeds are more aggressive by far. If that is what they choose to own than they can pay the price. Do not get me wrong, I too am a dog owner. My beagle was by my barn minding his own business, when a neighbors pit bull wondered about a mile through the woods to my farm and chewed up my dog right in front of me for no reason. My dog later died from his wounds. Had I known he was so bad off I would have shot the pit bull on the spot. Of course that would have saved a child from being bit shortly after my incident. In the end we all know that it is the owners responsibility to control their dog. If not than they can pay the price!

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