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Pit Bull Owners Now Liable for Attacks

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By Edward Tan, JD on May 03, 2012 6:59 AM

Maryland pit bull owners will now be liable for attacks by their dogs, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled.

The decision stemmed from a 2009 pit bull mauling case in the state. A 4-year-old boy in Prince George's county was critically injured after a pit bull attacked him. Though he survived, the assault caused severe damage to his face and one of his eyes. And after a lengthy court battle, it looks like he and his family have won.

But how far does this ruling go and what does it mean for current and future Maryland pit bull owners?

Short answer: you may want to think twice before adopting one of these dogs.

Though pit bulls are already outlawed in some parts of Maryland, including Prince George's County, the ruling makes ownership of pure or mix-breeds a strict liability risk.

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that makes any person involved in a particular activity responsible for any harm that arises from that activity. It doesn't matter how many precautions a person takes to prevent damage from happening. If anything goes wrong, that person will be liable for tab.

Typically, strict liability is applied in the context of "ultra-hazardous" activities, such as transporting chemicals or handling explosives. The reasoning is that no amount of precautions can ever be enough.

For a court to apply strict liability to Maryland pit bull owners, the decision changes the landscape of traditional dog bite laws.

Normally, liability for domesticated animals is measured by the "one free bite" rule. In essence, it means that a dog owner will usually only be held responsible for their pet's attack if they knew it had bit people before.

The Maryland court's decision dispels this norm. So for pit bull owners in the state, keeping one now means owning a legal liability.

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