In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals of Maryland last week ruled that owners of pit bulls, or mixed breed pit bulls — and landlords who allow tenants to have such dogs — are strictly liable for damages resulting from the dog’s attack.
The decision modifies the state’s previous laws relating to pit bull attacks. It is no longer necessary in these cases to prove that a pit bull is dangerous. The presence of the animal on the premises is enough to establish a case for damages.
The victim in this case, a 10-year-old boy mauled by a pit bull, was seriously injured in the attack. He spent seventeen days in the pediatric intensive care unit, had additional surgeries, and spent a year in rehabilitation.
His parents filed a complaint seeking money damages against the dog’s owners, and their landlord, alleging negligence and strict liability. The dog’s owners subsequently declared bankruptcy.
At trial, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the landlord knew of the vicious nature of the dog. But an appeals court later reversed that decision. The landlord’s insurer appealed to Maryland’s highest court, which upheld the appeals court’s imposition of liability against the landlord.
In modifying the law, the justices conclude that pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are “inherently dangerous”, and the state is justified in imposing greater duties to hold owners and landlords liable for any attacks.
According to the attorney for the victim, experienced litigator Kevin Dunne with the Ober|Kaler law firm, the court’s decision is already stirring debate between animal rights groups and organizations that advocate for stronger laws to protect people from dog attacks. “In the end, however, pit bull owners and their landlords must be liable for the actions of these dogs,” he explains.
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