Maryland: Committee hearing on HB73 on 1/23/14

As we enter the 2014 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers continue their efforts to overturn a 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision finding pit bulls  “inherently dangerous” and imposing a new strict liability standard on landlords who knew or had reason to know that a tenant has a pit bull on the premises.  The Court’s decision in Tracey v. Solesky  established that pit bull owners, as well as landlords, can be held strictly liable even if they didn’t have knowledge that the dog was dangerous.

This decision sent immediate shockwaves across the state, and the brunt of the Court’s decision hit renters whose family companions fell under the description of a pit bull-type dog.   Following the ruling, some renters received notice that they must remove their pit bulls from the premises or face eviction, which led to the filing of a lawsuit in federal court.

Legislators debated this issue down to the wire in last year’s legislative session, but the Senate and House could not agree on the language with respect to liability, and ultimately failed to pass legislation in response to the Court’s decision.

In November 2013, the Department of Legislative Services issued a report, “Dog Bites in Maryland and Other States: Data, Insurance Coverage and Liability,” that found since 2005, only one death in Maryland was attributed to a dog bite.  In addition, compared to other states, Maryland has an average number of dog bite injuries.  Moreover, among injuries from external causes — such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, fires, etc. —  that dog bites accounted for about 1 percent.

According to Delegate Luiz Simmons, a legislator at the forefront of the move to repeal the Court’s decision, the report shows that “the facts are an antidote to the epidemic of disinformation and factoids about dog bites and the histrionics that have accompanied it.”

Enter the 2014 legislative session and the filing of House Bill 73, and with it, the renewed hope of a resolution to the disastrous Court of Appeals ruling.

HB 73 would make dog owners, not landlords, responsible for injuries caused by their dogs.  The bill would protect responsible dog owners by creating a rebuttable presumption that the owners knew or should have known about their dog’s dangerous propensities, regardless of the breed of their dog.

HB 73 would reinstate the common law of liability relating to attacks by dogs that existed on April 1, 2012, without regard to the breed or heritage of the dog involved.

Finally, the bill has been filed as an “emergency measure” that would take effect immediately upon enactment, thus giving responsible dog owners and innocent dogs immediate relief from a devastating court decision. 

HB73 is currently before the House Judiciary Committee, and is scheduled for a hearing on January 23, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

MARYLAND RESIDENTS:  Best Friends Animal Society has created an action alert which makes it extremely easy for you to urge your legislators to find common ground on this very important bill. 

In addition to sending your letters, please CALL the members of the Judiciary Committee and encourage them to support and pass HB73.

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