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Maryland’s new breed-neutral dog-bite statute

Maryland dog-bite law changed in 2014.

Since April 8, 2014, Marylanders who own or control pit bulls or pit-bull mixes are no longer held strictly liable solely because of the dogs' breed for injuries caused when their dogs bite people in or from their premises. Strict liability means that a person is liable for harm even without any negligent or intentional behavior.

Prior to that date and since a 2012 court opinion, strict liability in that situation was based only on the owners' knowledge that they owned that breed of dog, because Maryland's highest court found this breed inherently dangerous even if the individual dog had never shown vicious tendencies.

In April 2014, the Maryland legislature enacted a new dog-bite law in direct response to the 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals opinion. The lawmakers specifically said they were passing the law to "abrogate the holding of the Court of Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky."

According to The Humane Society of the United States, the new bill was backed by advocates for both animals and dog owners, as well as for landlords. The legislation reportedly took two years of negotiation to finalize, but was ultimately widely supported. The Maryland director for The HSUS dubbed the previous legal standard "court sanctioned canine profiling," stating that the new legislation will require "all dog owners to protect victims of dog bites."

The HSUS says that 40 percent of U.S. households include dogs, so a state's dog-bite laws potentially impact many dog owners, landlords and bite victims. Maryland's new law's main provisions include:

  • In a lawsuit against a dog owner for damages for injury or death caused by his or her dog (of any breed), evidence that the dog caused the injury "creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities."
  • In a jury trial and before the jury issues a verdict, the judge may not find as a matter of law that the owner rebutted the presumption.
  • In a lawsuit against a nonowner (like a landlord of premises on which the dog lived), the dog's breed is irrelevant.
  • A dog owner is strictly liable for injury, death or other loss to person or property caused by the dog when it is running loose, unless the victim was trespassing or trying to trespass or commit a crime on the dog owner's property; committing or trying to commit a crime against anyone; or "[t]easing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog."
  • And more

It is important that a Maryland victim of a dog attack (or the survivors of a victim who died from such an attack) seek the legal advice of an experienced Maryland dog bite attorney. Such legal counsel will be knowledgeable about the recent changes in the law and how they impact lawsuits against dog owners and landlords for damages as well as insurance claims. A skilled personal injury lawyer can advise such a victim of his or her rights and potential legal remedies like a personal injury suit.

The animal attack attorneys at the Bowie, Maryland, office of Reinstein, Glackin, Patterson & Herriott, LLC, are prepared to advise and represent just such victims.

Keywords: Maryland, dog bite, breed neutral, law, statute, pit bull, injury, strict liability, inherently dangerous, court, Tracey v. Solesky, lawsuit, owner, vicious propensities, rebuttable presumption, landlord

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