Ever since I became a dog owner nearly two years ago, I’ve been more aware of breed-specific legislation – and the more I learn, the angrier I become. Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals decided Tracey v. Solesky,which will likely have huge ramifications for pit bull-type dogs and their owners. Here’s a summary from The Whole Dog Journal:
“On April 26, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals delivered a finding that not only held a landlord liable for a 2007 incident in which his tenant’s dog, an American Pitbull Terrier, escaped from a pen and mauled a child, but also declared that ‘a pit bull or any dog with pit bull ancestry shall be deemed hence forth vicious and inherently dangerous as a matter of law.’” Read more about this case after the jump.
This decision stems from a horrible event in 2007 in which two children were attacked and grievously injured by a pit bull. The owner of that dog, who apparently made no attempt to help the wounded children and didn’t even call 911, was sued by one of the child’s parents (Solesky), along with the building’s landlord (Tracey). In the past, the person filing suit would have to prove that the defendant knew the dog was dangerous; in other words, they would have to prove negligence and liability on the part of those responsible for the dog.
However, the Tracey v. Solesky decision modifies that state law: now, the only proof a victim has to have in order to sue is knowledge that the dog is a pit bull, or even part pit bull. No other proof is needed due to the breed’s “vicious and inherently dangerous” nature. Here’s the court’s opinion in full:
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 obvious implication with this decision, as Court of Appeals Judge Clayton Greene Jr. noted in his dissenting statement, is that the only way for the owner/keeper/landlord to not be held accountable for the pit pulls on their property is to simply not allow pit bulls on said property. Moreover, “any other breed of dog … no matter how violent, apparently, would be judged by a different standard.” So were a Doberman to escape its yard and maul a child, suing the guilty parties would be a different situation than were it a pill bull-looking dog. This doesn’t even get into the problem of identifying pit bulls, a notoriously difficult task.
Some have pointed out that this development isn’t entirely surprising; many Maryland cities have outlawed pit bulls. Nonetheless, I sincerely hope that the nationwide backlash will convince Maryland to revisit this decision. Until then, there’s a Facebook page dedicated to the issue called Stop Maryland Pit Bull Discrimination.
Image via melgupta