Thursday, March 27, 2014

Maryland legislature again considers bill regarding liability for dog attacks

Two years ago I reported (here) that the Court of Appeals of Maryland issued an opinion in a case called Tracey v. Solesky holding that the owner of a pit bull could be held strictly liable for the injuries caused by the dog.

Soon thereafter pit bull owners and their advocates persuaded state legislators to convene a task force aimed at overriding the decision of the Court of Appeals.  See here.

However, after a very long process, the attempt by the legislature to enact a statute to override the holding in Tracey appeared to have failed. Both the House and the Senate approved statutes but they did not agree on the approach to use to deal with the issue.  A committee was formed to reconcile the bills, but the resulting compromise bill did not have the votes to pass.

A few days ago, however, the ABA Law reported that the legislature is still considering the issue.  The State and House will have to pass a single bill.  Reportedly, the legislation would create a presumption that all dog owners are liable for bites by their pets, no matter what breed. The presumption could be overcome with proof the pet had been docile before the attack.  The Washington Post has more here.

This proposal makes no sense to me.  The law has never been that there is a presumption of liability.  The law is that a plaintiff has the burden of proof of either negligence or that the defendant knew or should have known of the dog's dangerous propensities.  What Tracey held was that a plaintiff only had to prove the animal was a pit bull to meet the requirement of proving that knowledge.

Instead of scaling back the reach of the Tracey ruling, this proposal actually appears to expand it.  Now all dog owners are presumed to have knowledge and the burden would shift to them to prove the negative.  After Tracey, pitbulls were thought to be inherently dangerous; now all dogs are presumed inherently dangerous.  I can't believe animal rights people would be in favor of this approach.

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