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Annapolis legislation seeks to overturn court ruling on pit bulls

Del. Parrott calls bill, which is not 'breed specific,' 'a great compromise'

January 17, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation introduced this week in the Maryland General Assembly seeks to overturn a precedent set by a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling last year that concluded pit bulls were dangerous dogs.

The court ruling, which also held pit bull owners responsible for any attacks caused by their dogs, dismayed many dog owners because those with pit bulls were now liable for any attacks while landlords, too, were held liable for an attack caused by a renter’s dog, said the legislators who introduced the bill.

The emergency bill, which has been filed in the House and the Senate by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, respectively, is being described as a compromise bill that is fair to landlords, dog-owners and victims of dog bites.

Two competing bills on the issue introduced in the House and Senate during a special session last year failed.

The new bill is not “breed specific,” meaning they apply to all dog owners rather than those who owned pit bulls, Frosh said.

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According to the Associated Press, the bill also increases protections for dog bite victims because it creates a presumption that a dog owner should know that a pet presented a danger.

“So, in effect, most of these cases will now become questions for the jury,” Simmons said. “Plaintiffs will be able to get their case to the jury without having to go through a lot of rigmarole of trying to prove that an owner knew of the dog’s propensities, but the owner of the dog will still be able to defend himself or herself by presenting evidence that they didn’t know.”

Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said he was extremely pleased with the legislation.

“I think this is a great compromise,” Parrott said.

“It is good for landlords, it is good for dog owners. Before this, pit bull owners were just held liable … it gives them a chance to defend themselves … they are not automatically guilty.”

The other benefits of the bill, Parrott said, was that the liability insurance for dog owners would not skyrocket while renters would not be turned away because they owned a pit bull.

Tami Santelli, Maryland State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bills “address our two main concerns with the ruling — singling out a single breed of dog and extending strict liability to landlords … forcing Marylanders to chose between their pets and their homes.”

Santelli said that as a result of the court ruling many people have given up their pit bulls while it had become more difficult to get them adopted.

Simmons said that he had never received as many emails on any other issue, and the bill is being handled as an emergency with a hearing scheduled for Jan. 30 because so many tenants had expressed concern that they either could not get a place to rent, given up their pit bulls or were trying to hide them from landlords.

“It did create a lot of dislocation,” Simmons said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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