A bill meant to ease liability for pit bull dog owners and landlords was criticized by victims' families, dog advocates, attorneys and legislators Wednesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The committee heard testimony on legislation that would override a decision by the state’s highest court that imposed “strict liability standards” on owners of “pure bred pit bulls” and landlords who rent to these dog owners.
Sponsored by Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, the legislation mandates that evidence of a dog causing injury creates a “rebuttable presumption” that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had dangerous tendencies. While it reinstates common law that has been popularly referred to as the “one-bite” rule, Simmons rejected this characterization.
“Maryland has never been a one free dog bite state,” Simmons said. “You don’t need to prove a prior bite.”
Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Worcester, and others, said the burden of proof would fall to victims, as dog owners would always claim ignorance of the dog’s dangerous tendencies.
“The victims will not have any justice,” said attorney Kevin Dunne, who represented Dominic Solesky, a 10-year-old who was brutally mauled by a pit bull.
Dominic’s father Anthony Solesky agreed.
“The proposed bill fails miserably,” Solesky said. “The mere testimony of a dog owner that their beloved (dog) was a good, non-aggressive creature forces victims to relive the nightmare just like I have been living (by forcing defendants) to prove the vicious tendencies or aggressive tendencies of the attacking dog.”
Simmons argued that such cases would go to a jury, and the burden of proof would “shift to the defendant” to prove that he or she did not have knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities, but others called for strict liability and rejected this assertion as incorrect.
For the advocates from B-More Dog and Bella’s Bully Buddies who rallied on Lawyer’s Mall to support the legislation, the court’s decision in the 2012 Solesky case that declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous” was more than false.
“It’s discrimination,” said Mindy Fitzgerald, a 29-year-old B-More Dog board member. “There is no such breed as a pit bull. It’s more of a grouping of several breeds of dogs.”
Angela Hartman, 46, said that the discrimination against breeds is also about discriminating against people.
“You end up being discriminated against when it comes to moving into a home or neighborhood or an apartment, or even walking your dog in a certain area,” Hartman said.