Third Try on Dog Liability Bill at MD General Assembly

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Key legislators will again introduce emergency legislation at the 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly in an effort to overturn a court ruling holding dog owners and rental housing providers strictly liable for damages caused by pure bred pit bulls. Delegate Luiz Simmons has introduced HB 73, which will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 23. Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh is expected to file identical Senate legislation shortly.

Two previous efforts to replace the Court of Appeals decision in Tracey v. Solesky proved unsuccessful as the Senate and House of Delegates could not agree on a breed neutral standard of liability for damages caused by dogs. While this year’s bill is similar to last year’s legislation, there seems to be a renewed commitment by legislators to keep controversial amendments off of the bill and to resolve this issue.

As with last year’s bill, this bill would create a rebuttable presumption, in cases involving personal injury or death caused by a dog, that the owner knew or should have known of the vicious or dangerous propensities of the dog. For AOBA members, the bill would restore the pre-Solesky common law standard of liability for third parties such as rental housing providers. Under common law, a property owner would be held liable for damages caused by a tenant’s dog if it could be proven that the property owner had knowledge of the dog’s presence on the leased premises and its vicious propensities, and maintained control over the leased premises.

In a related development, the Department of Legislative Services issued a report detailing the relative infrequency of serious injuries caused by dogs in Maryland since 2005. Dog bites represented about one percent of treat and release visits to hospital emergency departments and less than two-tenths of one percent of hospitalizations. The report will certainly be cited in the upcoming legislative debate on dog liability standards.