Pit Bulls Declared Inherently Dangerous in Maryland

Tennessee personal injury lawyers will read with interest this opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals that declares that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and thus are not subject to the "first-bite" rule.  

In Tracey v. Solesky, No. 53 (MD. Ct. of App. Apr. 26, 2012) the dog bite arose from "an attack by a pit bull named Clifford. Notwithstanding his relatively benign name, Clifford possessed the aggressive and vicious characteristics of both Trouble and Rampage."

The Court examined the history of pit bulls and cited to various sources to document the dangerous propensities of these animals.  After a careful, thorough examination of the law and public policy, the Court concluded as follows:

 

We hold that upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull mix, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises as in this case) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix, that person is strictly liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. [Footnote omitted.]

The Court expressly refused to consider whether the same rule would apply to another dangerous breed, Rottweilers.

The Court explained the change in the law with this footnote:

 

In this case, we are modifying one of the elements that must be proven in cases involving pit bull attacks from knowledge that a particular dog is dangerous to knowledge that the particular dog involved is a pit bull. If it is a pit bull the danger is inherent in that particular breed of dog and the knowledge element of scienter is met by knowledge that the dog is of that breed.

 

I agree wholeheartedly with this opinion, but note that it could have unintended consequences.  First, to the extent that homeowner’s insurance companies will still insure homeowners who have these dogs, my guess is that there will be a blanket exclusion of these dogs from homeowners coverage in the future.  This will leave injured parties to look only to the assets of the dog owners and this will mean that many pit bull victims will be left without compensation.

Second, state and local governments should work to ban people from owning pit bulls unless they prove proof of insurance or other evidence  financial responsibility.  These dogs are inherently dangerous, and any person who is fool enough to have one should be required to demonstrate that they will be able to bear the financial consequences of their actions.