Md. bills would stop the singling out of pit bulls

Local,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS - A group of Maryland lawmakers say they will fast-track measures to overturn a court ruling that targets pit bulls and their owners.

The proposals in the state House and Senate would say that owners of all breeds should know if their dog is dangerous and that it's up to them to prove otherwise if they are sued over their animal biting someone.

The bills take aim at a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals that said pit bulls were "vicious and inherently dangerous" dogs. For that reason, their owners were liable if the animals were to bite someone.

"I think the compromise is fair to victims, owners and landlords," said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County. Frosh is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee through which the bills must pass.

Opponents of the court ruling worried that it unfairly singled out pit bull owners. It also applied to landlords, who would be held responsible if a pit bull belonging to a renter bit someone.

The ruling stemmed from a 2012 case in the state's highest court over a pit bull that escaped its pen and mauled a 10-year-old boy, almost killing him.

The court upended the state's One Bite Rule, which held that if a dog bites someone and its owner is sued, the victim must prove that the dog has bitten someone else before.

The Court of Appeals ruled that people bitten by pit bulls didn't have to prove that the dog had previously bitten anybody because the breed is dangerous.

Critics compared the ruling with racial profiling, and the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, said owners were being forced by landlords to choose between housing and their pets.

The bills, sponsored by Frosh in the Senate and Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery County, in the House, would get rid of the One Bite doctrine and force owners of all dog breeds to prove their dog isn't dangerous, instead of having the victim prove it is. It also exempts landlords from being held responsible if a tenant's dog bites someone.

HSUS Maryland State Director Tami Santelli said the legislation addresses the group's two biggest concerns -- making rules uniform for all dog breeds and holding landlords guiltless for actions of their tenants' pets. She said it's also good for pit bulls, who were having a hard time getting adopted.

Lawmakers failed to address the court ruling during a special session last year.

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