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Legislation Would Ease Pressure on Pit Bull Owners and Landlords

Bills in the House of Delegates and Senate would create a new standard where all dog owners are presumed liable for dog attacks, regardless of the breed of the animal.

Legislation overriding a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that made landlords liable for pit bull attacks, and put owners at risk of being evicted or having to give up their dogs, will be heard Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

Identical House and Senate bills seek to create a new standard where all dog owners in civil action cases, regardless of the dog’s breed, are presumed liable for attacks unless owners can prove they did everything possible to avoid the attack, said Sen. Brian Frosh, sponsor of the Senate bill. It would also reverse the strict liability on landlords.

“The interest groups: pet owners, landlords, and animal rights groups
are pleased with it,” said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who is also chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

In April, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Tracey v. Solesky that owning pit bulls or allowing them on your property is an “inherently dangerous activity.” The ruling made owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes, as well as their landlords, automatically liable for dog attacks. In August, the court narrowed the ruling to include only pure-breed pit bulls.

The decision was part of a case involving Dominic Solesky, who was 10-years old when he was attacked by a pit bull named Clifford while playing Nerf tag in a Towson alley in 2007.

Solesky suffered severe wounds to his leg, which the Court of Appeals called "gruesome." The boy underwent five hours of surgery and multiple blood transfusions during a 17-day hospital stay.

The Humane Society of the United States is urging the legislature to pass the bill quickly. Following the April 2012 court decision, some Maryland shelters saw an influx of pit bulls being given up for adoption when landlords throughout the state began banning them for fear of being sued if the dogs attacked.

“One of the most important things this bill does is it removes the liability for landlords and other third parties,” said Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Because of the strict liability for landlords, people throughout Maryland were given warning that they had to get rid of their dogs or move out.”

Prior to the Solesky case, Maryland courts used the “one-bite rule,” which said dog owners were only at fault for an attack if they knew their dogs had vicious tendencies.

During an August special session, the Maryland House considered a bill that would have revoked liability for landlords and placed dog owners under strict liability for attacks unless they could prove the victim provoked the dog into attacking. The bill did not pass.

“This bill is a really fair compromise given what was being considered during the special session in August,” Santelli said. “It’s fair for both victims of dog bites and dog owners.”

Controversial breed-specific legislation has been around for decades. As early as 1987, the city of Yakima, WA, banned pit bulls.

Over time, cities and counties nationwide have passed various breed-specific laws, ranging from requiring owners to register the dogs, to completely banning breeds. Prince George’s County outlawed new pit bulls in 1997.

In contrast to the Maryland court’s stance, Virginia’s state code explicitly prohibits local governments from labeling specific breeds as dangerous. The law allows local governments to regulate ownership of dangerous dogs, but says dogs cannot be banned or labeled dangerous on the basis of breed alone.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear the House version of the bill at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to hear Frosh's bill at 1 p.m. Feb. 5.

Baltimore pit bull advocacy group B-More Dog is organizing a rally
Wednesday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Lawyer’s Mall prior to the House hearing.


Patch Associate Regional Editor Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.

Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 05:03 PM
@ Brian read my post I have said repeatedly I support going after the landlord because as a contract painter in my business I assume all liabity for my actions. I see the landlord as a business and I was instrumental in going after them because I see it that way. I hide nothing about it. I support it. I all supported having them bond their business just as I am required to bond and insure my bus.those I employ and my sub must have insur or it falls on me. Either live in the house as a resident or be in business I don't support having your cake and eat it to. I don't hide it I promote it and live it in my business and my cars and home.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 05:07 PM
@Brian the insurance follows the car not the driver. If I run a red light in your car you get the ticket. If your son or daughter has an accident in your car your insurance gets sued the accident is all that follows the driver. I want it to work just like cars but with houses it does not. If the accident was cause by a defect from the maker then your insurance company then after they make the victims whole will go after them. Happens everyday.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 06:24 PM
You are correct I do not know much of you or what you advocated for. I do know what you have written here on this forum. This is what I speak of. I can only respond to what you have written about in this forum. Dont forget the train travels in both directions and you dont know what I have dont or have advocated for.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 06:36 PM
The insurance indeed follow the car not the driver. If you are driving my car and run a red light the ticket goes to me. When I go to court and prove you were driving and was not in possession of my car, you get the ticket and charge, not me. Again when there is an car accident the insurance is sued if there is fault found, which in most cases involves negligence of some sort. The party that is found at fault (negligent) is then responsible and their insurance is named in the suit. With what is on the books now the landlord is automatically found at fault. This would be a kin to you having an accident and you being automatically at fault because you own the car.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 06:43 PM
@ Brian, You cannot post as much as I do, spell and have poor sentence structure the way I do and put yourself out there the way I do unless you expect a come back. I invite it, I want it because people read more then they post and some post without reading. There is nothing in my post that say on this blog that contrdict my position or that I hide from. Not in this blog or others or in the public record. I am also saying that all of my post are in context of the public record and not always someone else limited understanding of how this topic came to be in the first place. I would not expect you to read and know all that so we can do it on the run. I just want everyone to understand that how they think “one free bite “ works and rebuttable presumption” works is equally limited in your understanding. Based o your research not your intelligence. And I am saying you think I am doing this for reasons that if you did the research you would not find yourself able to disagree with me. With your own car for one example or if you fell on your renter neighbors icy sidewalk even if he had agreed with the landlord to cut the lawn and shovel snow. Who would you sue if you were injured so badly you were screwed up like my son.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 06:44 PM
I sued both of them and would again. I don’t live in my place of business and I don’t do business out of my house and I don’t get business loss or deductions or profits on my residents in the same way a landlord does. That is my view and the court agreed. I could have lost and they can still change the law back. I won my case this is all for the public consumption and understanding not my defense. Do what you can with it at the benefit of all concerned is my only wish.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Statics mean nothing here. We both agree all dogs bite. Where we dont agree is that landlords are guilty without having their day in court.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 06:50 PM
With is line of thinking you would have every business get bonded and insured as there could be an accident at any time and any where. MaryKay distributors should be bonded and insured?
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Tony I would expect the homeowner or his insurance to cover my expenses because the owner of the property was negligent by not having the side walk cleared in a timely manner. He was negligent. If the owner then wanted to go after the tenant because he didnt live up to their agreement then so be it.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 07:00 PM
All liabilty assumes that recovery is able to be accomplished otherwise it is a fools victory. No law that says make the dog owner responsible is drafted from the idea that it is not reasonable to actually cause the gulity to be accountable. What is your baseline for accountabilty other then it falling on the tax payer? They don;t even have criminal laws for what happened to my son but they have crimial laws if he harmed a dog. I did not argue what if;s in the court and under the new law my very same recovery for my son is not able to be accomplished of the two of us who do I think is responsible me the parent. Or the idiot that threw the party and the guest he invited that brought the dam Pit bull to it so to speak. A party that spilled over into my space. It came into my circle and that is the way I see it.No one made me sue, or bring criminal charges of child endagerment and no one is making me post. It is all my responsibility and doing.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 07:07 PM
If I were your lawyer I would have advised you to sue both too. You won the case because of your particular circumstances. But the homeowner had their day in court. I just dont think the landlord should not have their day in court and be held strictly liable.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 07:10 PM
@Brian, yes to Mary Kay and Tupperware and avon. Yes to so be it and even in strict liability there are defenses yes you get your day in court. My point I didn't want to go to court and the new law says I will still have too. I all wnated to do was exchange insurance information like normal people. Don't let it escape you that I could have never even won anything if it was any other breed of dog. which means two things One free bite was crazy and still is for the other breeds and it also showed something is wrong with the brakes on a pitbull and they need to recall them. That is about it
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 07:16 PM
HB 78/SB 160, creates a new standard by which all dog owners in civil action cases, regardless of the dog’s breed, are presumed liable for attacks unless owners can prove they did everything possible to avoid the attack and it would also reverse the strict liability on landlords. To me this is a fair law. The dog bit someone. The owner of the dog should be in control of the dog , so when it bites someone it is their fault. We will see in the next few weeks if it sticks. I for one hope it does.
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 07:44 PM
I think it will go thru with some amendments, but i agree. In speech it appears to address the problem but it entertains this idea that if you choose to own a dog and it harms someone if you took extraordinary precautions you cannot be held liable. That means that you still believe in one free bite. It makes a distinction were none exists and is not designed to address everyday dog bites which is really what cumulatively the insurance industry is concerned and working this angle. Not some million dollar drop in the bucket case. You would agree if my car slipped into gear and drifted into you that my insurance should pay and that my efforts to act safely and my knowledge of cars should be a ridiculous defense as any dog can bite to say well sorry about your dent but I didn‘t know even if true, means what? You would say its your car, I say it’s your dog . This is retarded and likely people take that because they want something else Pit bull rights or landlord rights. Now Rebuttable Presumption will come back to bite, but if applied to all other dog breeds and landlords until these dogs do something as repeated as Pit bulls would make more sense to me as it does in product recalls. I don’t have to live with either bill in my case but I can assure you it won’t advance anyone’s cause except insures for reasons I stated in the first three posts on this blog. What ever they cook up , it will not serve us you or me as we would hope, I assure you.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 07:50 PM
One free bite is about as stupid as stupid gets!! If I or my dog or my car or my icy sidewalk causes injury then, you are darn skippy I am responsible. But to say that I am automatically responsible for my tenants dogs or car, to me, is just ludicrous. I am automatically responsible for the icy sidewalk but then if I, as the lessor, find the tenant is in violation of the terms of the lease, then I would sue the tenant to recover my losses. Believe me Tony, I have read your website about your case and understand where you are coming from but I still dont think the landlord is AUTOMATICALLY liable. Your case has circumstances that would show some liability on the landlords side but not all dog bite/maul cases have that element. You by bringing this case have cause dialog which can do nothing but help here.
Buck Harmon January 28, 2013 at 07:52 PM
How could a dog be insured without proof of ownership Tony?
Tony Solesky January 28, 2013 at 08:01 PM
@Buck, I don't know, I think it is a great question that needs to be resolved. I think if people start to pose question with the hope of getting answers we will all be better off but too often they pose question to obstruct progress on what the think may hurt thier intrest. The group who has changed the most with no regard to human public is not landlords, most dog owners, homeowners or non dog owners. It has been the "humane" groups pit bull pushers and insurance industry.
Brian C. January 28, 2013 at 08:05 PM
Yes you are correct Tony ....what ever the cook up wont serve us!!! LOL
Buck Harmon January 28, 2013 at 08:13 PM
I have this cat that for some reason keeps showing up on my property...it always looks a little hungry so I put food out for it...I noticed it had fleas so i bought it a flea collar...damn thing just makes itself at home....If one day it scratches the child down the street in the eye and causes some major damage who would be responsible for this situation..? Or would this fall perhaps into a grey area that could never be resolved..?
Lily January 28, 2013 at 08:27 PM
City landlords might have a shot at being more selective in tenants if the city didn't protect the derelict ones so damn much. For instance the city rent court records are not online like other judiciary case search files are and they are filed by the landlord name and not the tenant so there is no way to search a city tenant's history. Plus it take three solid months to complete an eviction. Not to mention the messed up water bill system that bills you for more water than is capable of comeing through the system in the first place. City landlords can't vote in the city so they can't change anything. The city coddles the worst citizens it has and drives the responsible ones out.
Needaname January 28, 2013 at 09:08 PM
It is a tough crowd. I understand your necessity in going to court. Additionally I can not imagine the medical bills. I hope your Son has fully recovered.
RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:21 AM
@Clay Hund: It is the responsibility of landlords to provide tenants a safe place in which to live and to protect tenants and the public from dangerous conditions on the landlord's property. Pit bulls are dangerous, therefore, if a landlord allows tenants to have pit bulls on his property, he is placing other tenants and lawful invitees to the propery in danger. Most renters do not even have tenant homeowners insurance to pay for their home furnishings in case of theft or other loss, do you really think they are going to insure their pit bulls? I realize from having encountered you on other sites that you aren't very bright, but even you should be able to comprehend this. If landlords aren't held responsible for dangerous dogs on their property, then why hold them responsible for improperly-fenced swimming pools, loose steps, or any other dangerous condition?
RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:27 AM
I own rental property and I do not allow pets. If all landlords instituted a strict "no pet" policy, that would solve the problem! If people can’t afford their own home with a fenced yard, then they don’t need a dog, particularly not a large, vicious animal such as a pit bull! It is inhumane to keep a large, energetic animal in a small house or apartment. If all you dog freaks were really concerned about animal welfare, you would oppose any landlord allowing dogs in apartments.
RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Florida is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites/attacks and landlords can be, and often are, held responsible for bites by their tenants' dogs. It has nothing to do with "ambulance chasers," it is just basic common sense. If a landlord allows a dangerous condition to exist on his property -- and pit bulls are dangerous -- then he should be held responsible if the dog injures someone. And with pit bull attacks, we're not talking about a few hundred dollars, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars! Furthermore, if you knew anything about pit bull owners, you would know they don't eve care enough to insure their household furnishings, do you really think such people are going to insure their land-sharks!
RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:40 AM
@Deborah Cole: If pit bull owners were responsible people, THEY WOULDN'T OWN PIT BULLS! As for those pit bulls "given up" or "killed" -- Well, Boo-Hoo! and Good riddance!
RoastPuppy January 29, 2013 at 12:49 AM
@FIFA: You are WRONG! Making landlords liable for dog bite damages protects thousands of kids and adults. Every apartment building that allows pit bulls places children and other residents in unreasonable and preventable danger. If landlords knew they were liable for damages caused by their residents' pit bulls, they would no longer allow pit bulls. Within a short time -- as happened in Miami-Dade, Florida (which has had a pit bull ban in effect since 1989) -- pit bull attacks would cease because those who owned them wouldn't be able to find a place to live.
Carol February 02, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Landlord should not be held responsible for dog bites! When a person or person's rent a place to someone that is their in a way as long as they are paying for it. When you reant a car do they tell you who or what you can put in the car....same as a Landlord he they rent it to you unless they tell you up-front you can't do this and such. But they are not there watching everything you take in or out of your rental property. Do owners need to be held responsible unless someone ore something is done to that dog to provoke something then that would I think be up to the courts to take care of. I don't own a dog but my husband has to clean some ones dog poop up every so often out of our own yard because of they are too lazy to do it, in an area where you are to clean up after your dog... so say's our HOA. Be safe everyone and watch out for those dogs.
Wesley February 11, 2013 at 05:26 PM
@Roastpuppy, you're an idiot!!! I am a "pitbull owner" and I have all the insurances that are required of me, as a homeowner. I have owned my dog since she was 7 weeks old. I believe a " well behaved" dog, is a good dog. My pit has never attacked another animal or human and my neighbors are not fearful for their lives because I own a "dangerous dog". My pitbull was trained to walk off leash when she was young and remains to walk off leash in my neighborhood. She loves kids and other animals. She doesn't chase rabbits or squirrels and she was raised with two cats. Now tell me how she is so much more dangerous than any other breed of dog. Tell me how I'm reckless for owning a specific type of dog. I assume you've never been around a pitbull on a personal basis, I assume you're a liberal idiot that argues against every issue you don't fully comprehend. I am a pitbull owner and I feel every dog owner should be held fully responsible for his/her dog's actions.
Tony Solesky February 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Wesley, You sound like a excellent dog owner. The problem is that anyone who holds a belief that nothing can be gathered from a dogs breed as a excellent predictor of behavior should not own any dog. Training is the net effect of owner input onto a dogs breeding. Obedience training can be imposed upon any dog but has nothing to do with breed training. You can't train a Pit bull to hunt like a beagle or a begale to fight like a pIt bull. Every single breed that exists has a standard and a behavioral and breed conformation charter which is what Pedigree is all about. This is what the word breed means. Pit bulls are inherently dangerous. Not inherently bad or inherently disobedient.
William Thomas Capps Jr. June 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Had a Pitt for years and he never harmed anything. It is the Pitt owners not the dog! I taught my Pitt (Harley) how not to attack cats. I also feed him low protein dog food. These laws about pitt’s are wrong. Go after the idiot owners not the pooch.

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