Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals (in Tracey v. Solesky), provided Marylanders with two standards of liability in cases where a dog injures a human. Now the owners of "pit bulls" and "pit bull mixes", and the owners of property where these dogs knowingly reside (landlords) will be subject to strict liability for damages these dogs cause. The owners of any other breed of dog will be subject to the general negligence liability standard where the owner will not held responsible for the dog bite unless it can be proven that the owner knew their dog is dangerous (this standard would only apply to landlords who knew or should have known the dog was dangerous). In this decision, the Court deemed "pit bulls" and "pit bull mixes" as "inherently dangerous." There are numerous problems with this decision, to include: (1) studies have found that no breed of dog is inherently more dangerous than other (including The AVMA study the majority erroneously sited in their favor); (2) that “pit bulls” are not a defined breed, let alone “pit bull mixes”; (3) that the Court has provided no guidance on identifying a “pit bull” type dog; (4) that the Court has enacted through common law what should be addressed through legislation; (5) that this common law provides a slippery slope for strict liability for weapons; (6) that this common law is casting a wider effect than intended thereby causing some counties to no longer adopt out pit bulls even though there is no law to support a full ban on the breed; (7) this law does not provide Maryland "pit bull" owners equal protection under the law (as required under the constitution) as the law is both unreasonably underinclusive (because it fails to include other potentially dangerous types of dogs) and unreasonably overinclusive (because not all pit bulls are vicious, laws that apply to good-natured dogs unreasonably and unnecessarily burden the owners of dogs that pose no threat); (8) this law is also unconstitutionally vague and fails to provide proper notice to Maryland citizens because there is no real “pit bull” breed and it is difficult for owners of mixed breed dogs or adopted dogs without genealogical records to determine whether their dogs are covered by the law; and (9) more than anything else--this will lead to the death of thousands of dogs who have never done anything wrong.
I am sure you will receive tons of notes from proud owners of dogs that might be deemed "pit bulls"--owners who raise the dogs as loved members of the family, who have children who love thier pets, and owners who have gone out of their way to train their dogs to be productive members of society. For every case you hear of a dog mauling a person (of any variety of breeds), there are thousands of cases of humans doing horrible things to dogs. "Pit bulls" are heavily abused (just look at Phoenix, the dog set on fire in Baltimore) and yet our laws to punish these humans, who know better, are lax. You may think that we are not punishing good pit bull owners as thier dogs would not be involved in tort liability cases--but this rule attaches to landlords, so renters (in this harsh economy) must choose between shelter for their children or giving up their pets to an overburdened shelter system. Also, as the Court has deemed them "inherently dangerous" some shelters are unsure of their liability if they adopt out any dog possibly deemed "pit bull" and so are refusing to adopt out dogs that have passed extensive temperament testing.
Between 1977 and 2012, the American Temperament Test Society performed a standardized temperament test on 869 American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT) (one of the many breeds often labeled a “pit bull”). Of those 869 dogs, 728 passed the test (86.8%). In comparison, 776 Golden Retrievers were also tested; 661 passed (85.2%). [Additional results can be found here: http://atts.org/breed-statistics/.]
In regards to dog bite cases and “pit bulls,” the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) has openly discussed the illegitimacy of many studies, including the 2000 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that was referenced in this Court of Appeals ruling. The NCRC has thus concluded that “there is no individual factor, or combination of factors, that reliably explain which dogs bite”; rather “a dog bite is the culmination of dozens of circumstances and variables, both past and present” [emphasis mine]. Additional information from the NCRC can be found here: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dogbites/the-problems-with-dog-bite-studies/ and here: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dogbites/dog-bite-related-fatalities/.
In addition, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) itself published a disclaimer on the CDC study (notably, the majority decision cites this AVMA publication in support of their finding that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, contrary to the very warning of the publication) which stated:
In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities (e.g., neither pit bull-type dogs nor Rottweilers can be said to be more “dangerous” than any other breed based on the contents of this report). To obtain such risk information it would be necessary to know the numbers of each breed currently residing in the United States. Such information is not available. [www.avma.org/advocacy/state/issues/javma_000915_fatalattacks.pdf]
Also, although the Court cited Toledo, Ohio's breed specific legislation in their majority opinion, Ohio's House of Represenatives have introduced a bill to overturned the state's breed specific legislation. Miami is soon voting on a similar bill to overturn BSL.
The dissenting opinion in the case stated it best:
"Given the nature of the extensive social problem of regulating pit bulls and mixed breed pit bulls, the majority elects to focus on the breed of the dog involved, rather than on the behavior of the dog, the owner, and the landlord. The issues raised involving breed specific regulation are not appropriate for judicial resolution; rather, those issues are best resolved by the Maryland General Assembly, as that branch of government is better equipped to address the various issues associated with regulation of pit bulls and mixed breed pit bulls."
Please help to return "pit bulls" and "pit bull mixes" to the same standard used for all dogs in Maryland. Please find that they are not "inherently dangerous." And, importantly, please find that the common law created by the Court is too vague (what is a pit bull? who decides how much pit bull creates a "pit bull mix"?) and that legislation is needed to correct this deplorable decision.