Several recent dog bite accidents in Maryland have illustrated how dog bite accidents can result in serious personal injury. Recently, in Glen Burnie, a toddler was hospitalized when a neighbor’s lab/terrier mix bit off part of his nose, despite the dog being confined to a fenced-in yard. In Northwest Baltimore, a pit bull escaped from its owners yard and killed and ate a neighbor’s dog – luckily, Animal Control arrived before anyone was hurt. And in April, two dogs attacked and mauled a 5-year-old girl in White Plains, causing injuries to her body, face, and neck. These incidents remind us that that man’s best friend has the capacity to cause serious injuries, particularly if the dog is a breed known to be aggressive or has been mistreated.
Last year’s blog post on the Maryland Court of Appeals’ ruling in Tracy v. Solesky discussed how Maryland has imposed strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by pit bulls and pit bull mixes. This year, the Maryland Senate passed a bill that would overturn the Court’s ruling and treat all dog breeds equally. The bill, which ultimately failed in the General Assembly, would have required dog owners to prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that they did not have knowledge the dog was prone to biting if it bit a child 12 or younger, and by a “preponderance of the evidence” if it bit a person older than 12. Although this would have reduced the current strict liability standard for pit bull owners, it would have imposed greater liability for dog bite owners in general. It is likely the Maryland legislature will revisit dog bite legislation next year.
Part of the push for the legislature to address the law concerning dog bites is that under Tracy v. Solesky, landlords may be strictly liable for personal injuries resulting from a tenant’s pit bull or pit bull mix, even if the landlord did not know the dog was dangerous. This has resulted in some dog owners receiving notices that they must either move out of their rental property or get rid of their dogs. Additionally, the Court’s decision has the potential to raise insurance costs for landlords. One long-time tenant, who was evicted after the Tracy v. Solesky ruling because he owned a pit bull, sued in federal court. In Weigel v. Maryland, the United States District Court upheld the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision and held that landlords have the right to make reasonable changes to the rules of tenancy, such as requiring that tenants not own a pit bull.
At least for now, Maryland law imposes strict liability only for pit bulls or pit bull mixes. For all other dogs, Maryland has a “one bite rule.” The one bite rule means that after a dog’s first bite, the owner is presumed to know that the dog has a dangerous propensity and is more likely to be liable for bites thereafter. If the dog has not previously bitten someone, an owner will still be responsible only if the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensity. The duty for proving this knowledge is on the bite victim. Landlords are also strictly liable only for pit bulls or pit bull mixes. For other dogs, the bite victim must prove that their injury resulted from the landlord’s negligence.
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