A Maryland appeals court has declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous," MSNBC reports.
The new ruling imposes strict liability onto Maryland owners whose pit bulls attack people. The decision makes it easier for victims to sue and recover against pit bull owners. The original case started when a 4-year-old Prince George's County boy was viciously mauled by a pit bull. The court's opinion applies to both pure and cross-bred pit bulls.
Though the decision only affects Maryland, the court's ruling could signal the beginning of possible statewide legislation against the animal.
Currently, no states criminalize the keeping or breeding of pit bulls. However, many municipalities across the country do have laws that make owning pit bulls illegal.
Laws that prohibit possessing certain types of dogs are called "breed-specific legislation." Currently, there are over a hundred counties in America that have BSL laws that either ban or restrict pit bulls. These counties reside across nearly every state, including Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas.
Penalties for violating these local laws vary. But typically they're charged as misdemeanors. For instance, in Prince George's County (where the Maryland case originated), violators are subject to fines up to $1,000 or up to six months imprisonment.
On its own, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous is already influential. But when coupled with the continuing wave of bad press against the animals, the idea of a statewide BSL law could be a plausible next step. A law like that would be the first of its kind in the country.
- Fallout From Pit Bull Ruling; Concerns Rise Among Dog Owners, Property Owners (The Baltimore Sun)
- DogsBite.org Release 3-Year Fatality Study: U.S. Dog Bite Fatalities January 2006 to December 2008 (DogsBite.org)
- Pit Bull Bans Face Court Challenges: Are Pit Bulls Illegal Where You Live? (FindLaw Blotter)
- Dog Bites and Animal Attack Overview (FindLaw)