Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, 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 a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.
The case is based on a Pitbull who escaped his pen and bit two children in 2007. The family of one of the victims sued the landlord who rented to the Pitbull’s owner. Under the new ruling, everyone who keeps a Pitbull or allows one to be kept on his rental property is liable for harboring a dangerous dog should any attack occur. Landlords and shelters are now in the position of considering whether any dog who might have Pitbull in his family tree, regardless of temperament, is an insurance risk.
This arbitrary declaration of certain dogs as inherently dangerous will protect no one in MD from being bitten by a dog. Here’s why:
- Pitbull is not a dog breed. It is a common term for mixed bully breed type dogs.
- There is no breed of dog proven to be inherently dangerous.
- There is no reliable method for determining what dogs qualify as Pitbulls or Pitbull mixes.
- Landlords who tell their tenants they must either give up their Pitbull or Pitbull mix or move will be relying on visual characteristics/shape to identify dogs.
- Shelters which refuse to adopt out Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes will be relying on visual characteristics/shape to identify dogs.
- Using a dog’s shape to determine breed is highly unreliable.
- Other types of dogs can and do bite people. Dog bites are rare in comparison to the number of non-biting dogs but when they happen, the breeds involved vary greatly and include all shapes and sizes.
While the court’s decision does not constitute a breed ban, there are already reports that both landlords and shelters in MD have begun discriminating against certain dogs based on shape. When breed discrimination occurs, needless dog killing results. In addition, some dog owners will feel obligated to “go underground” for fear of losing their pets. These owners may not seek out services such as rabies vaccination and dog licensing in an effort to keep their pets under the radar. This makes for an even less safe community.
I don’t know what the future may hold for MD Pitbulls but this ruling is decidedly a step back for all dogs and people in the state.