A Maryland legal ruling recently made national news when the Court of Appeals held that the owners of pit bull breeds, as well as landlords who permit tenants to own pitbulls, are strictly liable for damages arising from an attack by these dogs. The decision in Tracy v. Solesky changed the common law, which requires that a plaintiff must prove that the dog was known to be dangerous. Now the Court has determined that it will hear arguments to reconsider the decision. Interested groups on both sides of the contovery have filed amicus curie briefs with the Court, and seek to be heard on the issue.
The victim in the underlaying case was Dominic Solesky, a 10-year-old boy who in 2007 was mauled by a pit bull. Solesky was seriously injured in the attack, requiring five hours of surgery, including repair of his severed femoral artery. He spent seventeen days in the pediatric intensive care unit, had additional surgeries, and spent a year in rehabilitation. In 2008, his parents filed a complaint seeking money damages against the dog’s owners and their landlord, alleging negligence and strict liability. The dog’s owners subsequently declared bankruptcy. At trial, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the landlord knew of the vicious nature of the dog. In 2011, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. The landlord’s insurer appealed to Maryland’s highest court.
In modifying Maryland common law of liability relating to attacks by pit bulls and pit bull-mixes, the Court of Appeals concluded that “because of its aggressive and vicious nature…pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous” and went on to “impose greater duties by reducing the standards necessary to hold owners and others liable for the attacks of their pit bulls.”
Stay tuned for developments as the issue is reconsidered.