In a new ruling down from the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Maryland High Court has held that Pit Bull owners are strictly liable for the harm their dogs cause, regardless of whether the owner is negligent or not. The case is Tracey v. Solesky and the holding essentially states that:
"Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull
cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s
presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs
on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit
bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on
or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie
case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that
the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous."
The full opinion can be read at the link below.
We have blogged about this case before. My take on this decision is that if a dog owner knows or has reason to know his dog is a pit bull or a pit bull mix, he will be strictly liable for any harm his dog causes to another person. It is not necessary under this Court’s holding that the pit bull’s owner have actual knowledge that the specific dog has dangerous propensities. Additionally, it now seems irrelevant whether the owner’s actions were sufficiently negligent in restraining or containing the dog. Rather, it seems now the question on which these cases will turn, is whether the owner or landlord knows or has reason to know that the dog involved is a Pit Bull dog or a Pit Bull mix, as the Court has decided these dogs are inherently dangerous.
Animal advocates will likely claim that this law may result in many landlords prohibiting tenants from owning Pit Bulls or otherwise allowing Pit Bulls on the premises. Additionally, it may result in shelters becoming overcrowded with abandoned Pit Bulls. Additionally, it is conceivable that litigation will result trying to clear up instances of whether a dog is in fact a Pit Bull, or Pit Bull Mix.
It seems likely, that future Pit Bull lawsuits will turn on the question of fact of whether an owner knew his dog was a pit-bull. In cases where the owner claims ignorance, an objective standard will be applied. (I.e. whether given the facts and circumstances of his situation, he should have known the dog was a Pit Bull.) These questions, will in most cases, ultimately be decided by judges or juries.
In practical terms, owners of Pit Bulls will need to be extremely careful in restraining their dogs so as to prevent harm to others. Even in cases where the dog shows no dangerous warning signs, the owner may still be held liable if the dog suddenly and without warning violently attacks another person. Owners will probably need to take extraordinary measures to confine their pets, to ensure that they do not cause harm to others. (i.e. tall chain-link fences to keep dogs from escaping etc.) Conversely, those injured by these dogs, will have a stronger legal argument to recover for their injuries in Maryland.
If you or someone you know has been injured by a Pit Bull or other dangerous dog, you may have legitimate claim for personal injuries. Please call us today and ask to speak with one of our dog bite lawyers for a free consultation.
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