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Maryland Court of Appeals Imposes Strict Liability on Pit Bull Owners and their Landlords
April 26, 2012
April 26, 2012, Baltimore, Maryland – In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals of Maryland today ruled that owners of pit bull, 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 in Tracey v. Solesky modifies Maryland common law 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.
“This decision is about protecting the victims of pit bull attacks,” said Kevin Dunne, the Ober|Kaler attorney who represented the Soleskys. “It is anti-pit bull owners who do not prevent their dog from attacking and viciously injuring a child in Maryland.”
The victim in this case is Dominic Solesky, a 10-year-old boy who in 2007 was mauled by a pit bull. Solesky was seriously injured in the attack, requiring five hours of surgery, including repair of his severed femoral artery. He spent seventeen days in the pediatric intensive care unit, had additional surgeries, and spent a year in rehabilitation. In 2008, Dominic’s 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. In 2011, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. The landlord’s insurer appealed to Maryland’s highest court, and that court issued its opinion on April 26, 2012.
In modifying Maryland common law of liability relating to attacks by pit bulls and pit bull-mixes, the Court of Appeals concludes that “…Because of its aggressive and vicious nature…pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous…” and goes on to “…impose greater duties by reducing the standards necessary to hold owners and others liable for the attacks of their pit bulls.”
“The decision is already stirring debate between animal rights groups and organizations like www.dogbites.org that advocate for stronger laws to protect people from dog attacks” explained Dunne. “In the end, however, pit bull owners and their landlords must be liable for the actions of these dogs.”