Court imposes strict liability for pit bull dog attacks in Maryland

by | Aug 7, 2012 | General Info | 0 comments

When a person is bitten or otherwise injured by a dog or other domestic animal in Maryland, the animal owner is not liable for the injuries, unless the owner knew about the animal’s vicious propensities.  In April 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that pit bull dogs and pit bull mixes are inherently dangerous and the owners are strictly liable when such animals attack.  Tracey v. Sokesky __ Md.  __ (2012).   The Maryland Court of Appeals reasoned that pit bulls are extremely aggressive, are selectively bred to have powerful jaws, have a natural tendency  not to terminate an attack, and have a greater propensity to bite  humans than other dog breeds.  Pit bull dogs are responsible for more than half of human deaths in the U.S. due to dog attacks; and pit bulls dog bites cause greater injuries to humans than other dog breeds.   A pit bull’s massive canine jaws can crush a victim with up to 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI), which is three times the jaw strength of a German Sheppard or a Doberman Pinscher.  An American Alligator bites with the force of 2,980 PSI.

The Court concluded that an owner of a pit bull dog or a pit bull mix is strictly liable for any attack caused by his or her dog.  The Court’s ruling means that a victim of a pit bull dog bite does not need to prove that the dog’s owner was aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities.   Essentially, the Maryland court has refined a pit bull dog as an inherently dangerous animal.  The Court did not define what constitutes a pit bull dog, but it is generally accepted that it encompasses the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.

In August 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals amended its opinion so that the imposition of strict liability only applies to pit bulls, not pit bull mixes.

Note that Maryland legislators have proposed  various statutes to nullify, enlarge, or modify the Court’s decision.  The proposals include (1) a statute that would eliminate strict liability for pit bulls; (2) a statute that would apply strict liability to all dog breeds; and (3) a statute that would apply strict liability only to dogs when they are not leashed.  I expect that one of these statutes will be passed next year.




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