Maryland General Assembly Says No to Dog Owner Discrimination, Passes Effective Breed Neutral Liability

On April 3, 2014, the Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval to breed neutral dog bite liability legislation that would abrogate the 2012 Court of Appeals ruling in Tracey v. Solesky, which imposed “breed”-specific liability on dog owners, custodians, and landlords. From the beginning, Maryland residents and lawmakers have been in agreement that the Tracey v. Solesky ruling was not acceptable, but the House and the Senate disagreed on the appropriate standard for dog owner liability. This legislation, SB 247 and HB 73, championed by Sen. Brian Frosh and Del. Luiz Simmons, is the product of two years of negotiations between the chambers to arrive at a compromise for dog owner liability. Dog bite victims and dog owners alike benefit from the legislation, which presumes that dog owners know that all dogs can bite (regardless of breed), preserves the dog owner’s ability to present evidence in their dog’s defense, and holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries inflicted while a dog is running at large. It also removes the strict liability imposed by the Court on landlords and other third parties. SB 247 has gone to Governor O’Malley for his signature, and HB 73 is expected to receive a final vote today.

“I am glad we could work out a compromise that is fair to victims, dog owners, and landlords,” said Sen. Frosh, who sponsored SB 247. Del. Simmons, who sponsored HB 73, said: “I am grateful to the many citizens of our state who have worked together with me to craft a compromise that protects both the victims of dog bites and the owners of dogs. This compromise includes greater protections for those injured by dogs while preserving the important due process rights of dog owners and the cherished right to defend oneself in court.”

A large coalition of animal welfare groups, animal shelters, dog owner advocacy organizations, rental housing providers, individuals, advocates, and others supported this legislation. National Canine Research Council is proud to have been invited to provide expert testimony and factual information to the lawmakers as they crafted this legislative solution. The new law equally protects all Maryland citizens from negligent and reckless dog owners, regardless of the type of dog involved in an incident. It also raises the bar for responsible dog ownership across the board as all dog owners are to be held equally accountable for their actions and the actions of the dogs, regardless of dog breed or appearance. The action of the Maryland legislature to reverse the breed-specific liability is in line with expert recommendations and recent legislative trends against breed-specific legislation, including the recent passage of two more state laws preempting municipalities from passing such legislation. All dog owners should be held to the same standards of humane care, custody, and control of their dogs, regardless of breed. The action of the Maryland legislature puts the responsibility for dog-related injuries where it belongs: on the dog owners.