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.