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Maryland Committee to Consider Two Dangerous Dog Measures on Feb. 7

(Tuesday, February 05, 2013)

The Maryland House Judiciary Committee will consider two measures on Thursday, February 7, relating to dangerous dogs. Maryland residents are encouraged to contact the committee and express your opinions on these bills.

Summary:

House Bill 618:

House Bill 618 seeks to address the numerous problems that resulted from the Tracey v. Solesky court of appeals ruling in 2012. This ruling states that all “pit bulls” are inherently dangerous and that landlords should be held liable for “pit bulls” owned by their tenants.

HB 618, like HB 78 and SB 160, would establish that the liability for landlords is the same as it was before this ruling. House Bill 168 also establishes liability for personal injury or death that is caused by a bite from a dog running at large. The definition of “owner” exempts commercial kennels, veterinary hospitals, shelters, governmental entities conducting animal control, dog walkers, pet shops, and those that are keeping or harboring a dog.

An owner (except for those exemptions listed above) is liable for damages for personal injury or death caused by their dog at large, regardless of whether the dog ever showed dangerous or vicious propensities in the past or whether the owner knew or should have known of these behaviors.

The owner is exempt from liability if the injured or deceased person provoked the dog, was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense or trespassing on the owner’s property. The owner is also exempt from liability if the person was “contributorily negligent”, assumed the risk of the dog, or if the owner has a defense or immunity that existed prior to the Tracey v. Solesky ruling. Dogs used for military or police work are also exempted if the governmental employee was complying with written policies.

If there is an action against someone who is not the owner of the dog, then the same laws of liability will apply that were in place prior to the Court of Appeals ruling, and the dog’s breed may not be considered.

This bill is virtually identical to Senate Bill 0002, which had strong support during the Maryland 2012 Special Session.

House Bill 178

House Bill 178 seeks to change the dangerous dog laws and establish more requirements for those who own a dog that has been declared dangerous.

Current law defines a “potentially dangerous dog” as one that bites a person, kills or inflicts severe injury on a domestic animal (when the dog is off the owner’s property), or attacks without provocation.

This bill would elevate the injury against a domestic animal to a “dangerous dog” action. “Dangerous dogs” are already defined as those that without provocation have killed or inflicted severe injury on a person. A “potentially dangerous dog” can be declared dangerous if they commit potentially dangerous actions a second time.

The bill establishes numerous new requirements for owners of “dangerous dogs”, including obtaining more than $300,000 of liability insurance and a dangerous dog registration certificate. This certificate states that the dangerous dog has been spayed or neutered. HB 178 does provide exemptions for instances where the victim was committing a crime on the owner’s property, trespassing, or was provoking, tormenting or abusing the dog. These exemptions, however, do not address the fact that if a puppy still in training bites someone, and then the dog bites again years later, that dog could be declared dangerous and the owner forced to comply with the sterilization, liability insurance, and numerous other requirements.

The AKC is concerned with this bill as currently written. We are asking the committee to consider allowing the “potentially dangerous dog” designation to be removed if the dog does not exhibit the behavior again for an extended period of time. We are also requesting that a mechanism be provided to allow owners to appeal their dog’s “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” designations.

This bill was introduced in previous sessions but did not advance.

What You Can Do:

Both House Bill 618 and House Bill 178 will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, February 7.

Consider attending the Judiciary Committee hearing and contacting the members of the committee to express your opinions on these measures:

House Judiciary Committee (click on the link to access contact information)
Thursday, February 7, 2013
1:00 p.m.
Room 100, House Office Building
Annapolis, MD 21401

The American Kennel Club Government Relations Department (AKC GR) will continue to monitor these bills and provide updates. For more information, contact AKC GR at (919) 816-3720 or doglaw@akc.org or the Maryland Dog Federation at marylanddogfederation@yahoo.com.