It’s been all the rage in legal circles and the popular press since the April court case of Tracey v. Solesky. Everyone wants to talk about the new rule about Maryland dog bites–specifically, pit bulls. The case basically ruled that it is common sense that pit bulls are more likely to be dangerous, so owners are automatically on notice that they might hurt other people. If the pit bull does hurt other people, then the owner is responsible for all injuries and damages.
Whether the Court’s decision was right or not isn’t something I need to get into. Everyone has an opinion, and there are good reasons for and against the opinion. Some people think pit bills are genetically predisposed to violence. Others think that they can be properly trained. The real issue is the ramifications of the opinion. Here are some of the possible effects:
Prince George’s county passed an anti-pit bull law in 1997, which carries a six month prison sentence and fine of $1,000.
One aspect of the existing dog law (pre-Tracey) is the one-bite rule. An owner is responsible for a dog attack if he is on notice that his dog was vicious. Oftentimes, if the victim can show that the dog bit someone in the past, that will prove the liability case. If the owner can prove no prior vicious tendencies, the courts would rule that the owner didn’t have any notice of a danger, so the owner is not responsible.
The legislature is working on a special session to study the case and determine if something should be done about. My guess is that the legislature will accede to public pressure and pass a law that pit bull owners get the same deal as other dog owners. I’d like to see a different law, though.
All of the problems listed in the bullet points above would likewise be solved by a rule that basically provides that all dogs are inherently dangerous. No need to show that the owner should have known a dog was dangerous. No need to show prior attacks or bites. If my dog bites you, I’m responsible. Period.
Dogs are beloved creatures. Faced with a law, the landlords, insurance companies and local governments would just leave it alone. They can’t fight the entire dog-owning population. And this would provide some security for the people who are victims to dog attacks. As between and innocently mauled child and a dog owner who has insurance, I say we side with the child. That child should get her injuries fixed and her scars repaired in almost every circumstance. Maybe we carve out a little exception for the child who does something to provoke the dog, but in most cases, the child should win these cases hands-down.