A short review of the Maryland Court of Appeals' decisions in dog bite cases gives bite victims a thorough understanding of what needs to be shown to prevail. Maryland's dog bite law was established in 1882 in the case of Goode v. Martin, 57 Md. 606, 609-612 (1882). In Goode, the Court held that in order to render an owner liable in damages to anyone bitten by a dog, it must first be proven not only that the dog was fierce, but that the owner had knowledge that the dog was fierce.
After Goode, different cases reviewed how to infer the dog owner knew his dog was fierce. For example, in later cases the courts noted that if the defendant tied up his dog during the day it could be presumed he knew it was fierce and dangerous. Hence, if a plaintiff suffered a dog bite in Maryland from a dog that was usually tied up during the day, the plaintiff had the necessary proof.
One Bite Rule
There is an easy way to understand Maryland's dog bite rule with respect to "knowledge." Consider it the "one bite rule." In other words, before the dog bites someone one time the owner is not considered to have the requisite knowledge to be liable. Unlike other states, Maryland has no dog bite statutes which make exceptions to the "one bite rule."
Maryland law made a distinction in the past between dog bites and bites from wild animals. Wild animals the court stated were "inherently dangerous" and therefore owners were on notice that they were dangerous to human beings. As a result, in contrast to dog bite cases, bite victims did not have to prove that the wild animal was fierce, or the owner had such knowledge.
Recent Change to Maryland Dog Bite Law
In the recent case of Tracey v. Solesky, (No. 53 September Term 2012), the court created an exception to the proof requirement in Maryland dog bite cases. Specifically, the Court excluded pit bulls from the general dog bite rules. The court found that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous." Therefore, to prevail in a pit bull bite case in Maryland it is no longer necessary to prove that a particular pit bull is dangerous. Essentially, the court modified the element of proof from knowledge that a particular dog is dangerous, to knowledge that a particular dog is a pit bull.
In reaching this drastic change in Maryland's dog bite laws, the court reasoned that the foreseeability in these pit bull bite cases is clear, and the extreme dangerousness of this breed is well recognized. The court indicated that pit bulls as a breed are known to be extremely aggressive and have been bred as attack animals. Further, the court pointed out that pit bulls bite to kill without signal, are selectively bred to have powerful jaws, high insensitivity to pain, extreme aggressiveness, a natural tendency to refuse to terminate an attack, and a greater propensity to bite humans than other breeds.
To the dismay of many Maryland pit bull owners, the court went on to reason that pit bulls should be treated differently in Maryland dog bite cases because:
- A pit bull's massive jaw can crush a victim with up to two thousand pounds of pressure per square inch
- A pit bull's capacity for vicious attacks, extraordinary savage behavior and unpredictable nature
- During a recent six-year period of the 32 known human deaths in the United States due to dog attacks, 23 were caused by attacks by pit bulls
- A Minnesota court has considered a pit bull a "weapon"
- The Albuquerque Humane Society will not adopt out pit bull dogs because of their potential for attacks on other animals and people
- Recent studies reveal that pit bulls were involved in approximately a third of human fatalities over a recent nine year period
- Pit bull attacks, unlike attacks by other dogs, occur more often, are more severe, and are more likely to result in fatalities
- Pit bulls are stronger than other dogs, are less willing than other dogs to retreat from an attack, and have a higher pain tolerance
See Tracey, Md. pp, 15-16, 23.
In short, the Court took it upon itself to prevent future harm to the public in dog bite cases by separating pit bulls from the general class of dogs. Pit bull owners and the Maryland legislature may have the last say in these types of dog bite cases. However, for the present time this will remain Maryland law.
Exceptions to this new Maryland dog bite law will not be advocated by any of Maryland's top dog bite lawyers. However, pit bull advocates will ask the legislature to consider factors such as socialization, training, and size, the dog's owner and the dog's sex when judging a pit bull's violent tendencies.
For more information about dog bite laws in Maryland and how the law might affect your injury case, please call Portner & Shure at (410) 995-1515 or (301) 854-9000 or complete the form on this page for a free consultation.