Maryland Court Fails To Rectify Decision Affecting Pit Bull Owners

Pit Bull Owners Affected

There have been news articles, twitter posts, and Facebook support groups since the Maryland Court of Appeals’ ruling about pit bulls in Tracey v. Solesky. In that recent case, the Court of Appeals ruled that:

“[U]pon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull mix, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises as in this case) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix, that person is strictly liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises.”

Previously, Maryland utilized the “one bite rule.” Meaning that unless you have reason to believe your dog is dangerous (i.e. previously bitten someone), you cannot be held liable in a civil suit and the burden is on the party bringing the claim to prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

This Court of Appeals ruling is extremely damaging to the breed, pit bull owners and landlords. The results of this ruling are that families who are renting and own pit bulls are being forced to give up their family dogs or face eviction. Shelters are being overwhelmed with the number of pits being turned in. Some shelters have resorted to euthanizing all pit bulls due to lack of space in the shelter. It is also making it almost impossible for homeowners to obtain insurance if there is a pit bull living on the property.

While I sympathize with victims of pit bull attacks, I also sympathize with victims of any dog attack. I am cognizant of the strength of the breed and therefore aware of the potential damage that can be inflicted in the event a pit bull does become aggressive. However, there are several breeds that can inflict severe damage in the event they become aggressive. Why is the Court turning a blind eye to this and selecting one breed?

In Tracey v. Solseky, both bits at issue occurred when the dogs were loose. This is an EXTREMELY important fact that is being overlooked. There are leash laws for ALL dogs. I advocate for responsible dog ownership – especially when it comes to pit bulls because of all of the bad media the breed receives. All dogs should be leashed or property contained in a fenced yard. The circumstances in the Tracey case should not be imposed to punish all pit bull owners.

More importantly, what is a “cross-bred pit bull mix”? How does one establish that in a court of law? This law is vague and beyond ambiguous and leaves many unanswered questions for the lower courts to decide.

After blogging, tweeting, advocating, and writing to my legislatures about this issue, I still felt this was not enough. Therefore, my family and I decided to save another life. That is when we welcomed Shadow into our home. He is a 1 year old pit bull that came from the Harford County Humane Society (the same place where I rescued Maddie). We made sure Shadow had a good temperament and would fit into our household. It didn’t take long for him to melt our hearts and he has been a wonderful addition. To see pictures of Shadow, please visit my webpage.

I will continue to post more information about the legislature’s attempts to resolve this problem during the special session. Unfortunately, the House and the Senate both agree that the Court of Appeals ruling must be changed; however, they cannot agree on how to change the law.

Please continue to lend your support to this cause, as every day more families are being forced to give up their pets and shelters are becoming overloaded. I would urge you to write to your local legislatures asking them to continue to work to change this law.

Written by Colleen Kirby Attorney at Law. For more information about this ruling and what it could mean for pit bull owners in the state of Maryland, please visit the Washington Post.