On April 28, 2007 10-year old Dominic Solesky suffered life-threatening injuries from an attack by a neighbor’s pit bull. He spent 17 days in the hospital. The dog’s owner was charged with reckless endangerment and avoided jail by accepting a plea deal. One year later, Dominic’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the dog owner and the landlord to recover damages. Does the fact that the dog was a pit bull matter in a Maryland dog bite case like this?
The short answer to this question is “no.” As of today, Maryland law does not differentiate between breeds during a dog bite case. Every breed of dog is currently treated like any other breed in Maryland dog bite cases. Read on if you’d like to dig deeper into the complicated history of this law.
A Pivotal Decision
A closer look at the Solesky case shows the evolution of Maryland dog bite law. Prior to that case, Maryland dog bite law did not differentiate between breeds. But in 2008, the Solesky family filed a case against the dog’s owner and landlord. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals eventually ruled that the family had a case against the landlord, and the case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Prior to this point, Maryland common law included a standard sometimes referred to as the “one free bite” rule. This approach would not hold the dog’s owner liable for a bite unless he or she knew or should have known that their dog had a tendency toward violence. But in April, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Solesky family and decided that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous.” In other words, the victim would only need to show that the owner or landlord knew that their dog was a pitbull to show that they were responsible for the bite. Later, the Court amended this decision to include only pure-bred pit bulls.
If you were bitten by a pit bull at this point in time, dog bite negligence and strict liability fell on the dog’s owner and the owner’s landlord simply because of the dog’s breed. In other words, pit bulls were assumed to be dangerous, and therefore breed mattered in a Maryland dog bite case. A dog bite victim would not need to prove that a pure-bred pit bull’s owner knew that the dog was a threat to others in order to establish liability for the attack.
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So Does Breed Matter Now?
However, this was not the end of the matter. Pit bull owners and landlords immediately sought to overturn the breed-specific decision in the Solesky case. The Maryland General Assembly became divided over the issue, with the House of Delegates hoping to return to the “one free bite” approach and the State Senate looking to enforce liability without regard for the dog’s breed to all innocent victims. Both chambers wanted to do away with the breed-specific nature of the Court’s decision. In 2014, the General Assembly passed a new standard in dog bite law.
This new law did two important things. First, it placed the burden of proof on the dog’s owner. In dog bite cases, the owner must be able to show that they did not know that their dog had a vicious propensity or was capable of attacking a person. It is no longer the dog bite victim’s responsibility to prove that the dog is dangerous.
Secondly, the new law brought back the common law practices that were in use before the Solesky ruling. The answer to “does breed matter” is no: a dog’s breed can no longer be used as proof that it was naturally vicious or prone to violence.
On Your Side
As shown above, the history of Maryland dog bite law is long and complex. Many people are unaware of the many changes that the law has seen during the past few years. But knowing those facts is crucial when you’re up against the owner’s insurance company in court.
The experienced attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law know dog bite law in Maryland inside and out. Their knowledge of the law has helped them settle cases across the state and get their clients the compensation they deserve, regardless of the attacking dog’s breed. Call our office today at 410-753-4611, or use our contact form to send us an email.