Could an entire breed of dogs actually be made illegal? That is the endgame question in a legal entanglement in Annapolis, Maryland, where the mauling of a 10-year-old boy in 2012 has resulted in nearly two years of arguments in court.
An ‘Inherently Dangerous’ Breed?
The breed in question — no surprise — is pit bulls. Long the favorite of junkyard owners, security guards and would-be tough guys of all varieties, pit bulls are despised and feared by many for their strength, their teeth and their hair-trigger aggression.
This fear is not without cause. Pit bulls were reported as responsible for over 93% of dog bite fatalities in the first half of last year, according to DogsBite.org, a national advocacy group for victims of dog attacks. Pit bulls do not simply rank No. 1 on the list of dog breeds involved in human attack; statistically, a pit bull in the midst of attack inflicts nearly twice as many bites on its victim as the second-place finisher on the list, the Rottweiler.
Because of this reputation, many states have instituted “legal leash” statutes to penalize pit bull owners for allowing their dogs out of enclosure without an effective restraint. Negligent pit bull owners can be fined, put in jail and, in some cases, lose custody of their dog.
Maryland Lays Down the Law
The state of Maryland is even less friendly than most when it comes to pit bulls. Owners of the breed can be held civilly liable in a personal injury case for damages inflicted in an attack by their dog. As recently as April 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals upped the stringency of the law by ruling that even the landlords of property where pit bulls are housed may be held accountable in case of attack. In some cases, even veterinarians and dog groomers can be held liable.
This law applies even when the owner or landlord had no prior knowledge of the dog’s propensity for violence. Even if the dog has no history of attack, those providing it shelter are held liable for any damages it inflicts.
Naturally, happy owners of pit bulls had a few objections. Animal rights groups quickly joined them in their cause to protest the law.
A series of rallies were held in the months following the ruling, where activists against the law made their case for House Bill 78. This bill is not an effort to overturn the 2012 ruling; rather, the bill would make all dog owners and their landlords responsible for attack damages, regardless of the breed.
Legislation Drags On
Last year, Maryland’s House and Senate worked until the last day of their session to find a solution to this issue, but could not agree on whether to pass the bill or not.
As a result, the hearings continue. Among those who testified before lawmakers was the father of the 10-year-old boy whose mauling set this all in action in 2012. At that time, the father brought suit against the dog’s owner and the landlord of the property where the dog was housed.
A Three-Sided Argument
The argument around this case is peculiar, in that seems to involve three sides. It seems like only common sense that any dog owner should be held responsible for their pet’s violence.
But many dog owners fear that if the law is adjusted to include all breeds, their landlords will either evict them or retaliate in another way out of fear for their own liability.
Owners of pit bulls that have never committed violence are outraged by the law, calling it “breed discrimination.” Why, they ask, should they be particularly penalized by the law for crimes their dogs have never committed?
It remains to be seen how the state of Maryland will decide in the matter of dog bite liability.
Find Your Advocate
Clearly, the issue of dog bite is much more than a matter of stitches and apologies. If you or someone you love have been the victim of an attack by a dog, regardless of whether it was unexpected or unprovoked, you need the help of someone who knows the laws and precedents that apply to your case.
Find out how the expert team at The Oshman Firm has helped dog bite victims in New York and New Jersey seek justice by calling (800) 400-8182, or fill on the contact form on the right side of the page. There is no cost or obligation for getting in touch.