Towards the end of last month, Maryland legislators began the process of passing a bill to address whether or not pit bulls should continue to be singled out as inherently aggressive, thus impacting the potential liability that their owners face in a lawsuit. Last year, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that pit bulls are dangerous by nature, a move that has angered some pit bull lovers and activists.
According to the terms of thebill all dogs would be considered inherently dangerous. If passed, a victim of a dog bite, regardless of breed, could sue the dog’s owner. Thus, the bill acts as a sort redefinition of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which ruled that pit bull owners and landlords would be held to strict liability standards for dog bites. Strict liability, in this context, means the owner would be liable without any additional evidence prior to the attack that a dog was dangerous. The new law thus creates the presumption that all dog owners, regardless of the breed, are presumed liable for attacks.
The law has run into some complications. The Senate took up a separate version of the bill that included a new provision requiring dog owners to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that their dog was not dangerous before the attack in order to prevail. Critics of this version argue that dog owners will be virtually incapable of rebutting a claim because the standard of proof is so high.
The general rule regarding dog bites is sometimes referred to as the “first bite free” rule. This implies that because the dog has never bitten anyone before, it was not predictable or preventable. Therefore, there has to be some sort of evidence of negligence on the owner’s part in order for him or her to be held liable for the bite. This lies in stark contrast to a strict liability rule, meaning certain liability regardless of prior behaviors for inherently dangerous animals, e.g. a tiger.
Let us be clear though, dog owners are always liable for the actions of their dog. The clarification is that under the new rules, dogs would be automatically considered inherently dangerous, thus lowering the burden of proof for victims, and shifting the onus onto the owner to prove that the attack wasn’t foreseeable, etc.
The dog bite lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, have successfully represented many individuals who have sustained neurological injuries, permanent scarring, and other serious injuries from being bitten or attacked by a dog. If you or a loved one has been injured or attacked by a dog in Maryland, Washington D.C., or the surrounding areas, please contact our dedicated attorneys today in order to set up your free, no obligation initial consultation. You can reach us by calling 1-800-654-1949 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Controversy Surrounds Proposed Legislation in Maryland Requiring Warnings for Old Tires Maryland Accident Law Blog, published March 19, 2013
Maryland Man Killed in ATV Accident, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published March 5, 2013