Pit bulls are inherently dangerous, Maryland’s highest court says
Well, maybe some of them aren’t, but for the sake of ease, and without regard to fact, let’s just lump them all together and proclaim them stupid.
That’s what they did, with pit bulls.
A troubling 4-3 decision by the state’s highest court last week deemed pit bulls and pit bull mixes inherently dangerous — a ruling that, on top of being ill-informed, could lead to trouble for pit bull owners everywhere.
One judge who went against the majority, Clayton Greene Jr., noted that how harmless a pit bull might be is no longer relevant when it comes to determining liability — a troublesome precedent, in his view.
“Now, it appears, the issue of whether a dog is harmless, or the owner or landlord has any reason to know that the dog is dangerous, is irrelevant to the standard of strict liability,” Judge Greene wrote.
The majority decision singles out pit bulls and declares them all dangerous. It implies that owners of them, and the landlords who rent to those owners, should ignorantly assume, as the judges did, that they are lethal and unpredictable beasts. And it makes suing their owners much easier.
Under previous case law, a victim intending to file a lawsuit after a dog attack had to prove that a dog’s owner, or landlord, knew it had a history of being dangerous. Now, under this new precedent, they can merely show that the owner knew their dog was all or part pit bull. That would be sufficient basis for a claim.
In other words, it’s no longer necessary to prove that a particular pit bull is dangerous, only that it’s a pit bull, or part of it is.
The ruling last Thursday came in the case of a 2007 attack on a child in Towson. According to the Baltimore Sun, 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was attacked by a neighbor’s pit bill and his family sued the dog owner’s landlord, Dorothy M. Tracey.
The Circuit Court judge threw out the claim, ruling there was no evidence that Tracey had been negligent. The Court of Special Appeals overturned the judge’s decision, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling Thursday. The case will now head back to trial.
At a time when many jurisdictions are becoming more enlightened about pit bulls, the Maryland Court of Appeals decision assures that, in at least one area, they will be treated differently from all other dogs.
Those speaking out against the ruling included Pauline Houliaras, president of B-More Dog, which formed in 2007 to fight anti-pit bull legislation in Baltimore County.
“This will not make a community safer,” said Houliaras, who is also a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant. She said breed has little to do with a dog’s potential for violence.
Houliaras said she fears the ruling could lead shelters to reevaluate their adoption policies, cause more owners to relinquish their pets, and result in even higher euthanization rates of pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
Often, she said, dogs are identified as pit bulls based entirely on appearances, which can be deceiving. The ruling, she said, could also lead to discrimination against pit bull owners, and make renting more difficult.
Kevin A. Dunne, attorney for the Solesky family, said Friday that the high court’s decision in no way bans pit bulls; it only makes the owner or landlord of the dog financially responsible for the injuries caused.
Real and painful as the 10-year-old’s injuries were, we think the court ruling is an unjust one. Punish the owners of that dog, not the owners of every dog that might have a resemblance to him. Fear mongering and stereotyping, based on ignorance, has never taken societies to very nice places. Judges of the state’s highest court, you’d think, would know that.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 30th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, appeal court, attack, breed, court of appeals, dangerous, discrimination, dog, dogs, dominic solesky, judges, laws, lawsuits, liability, maryland, mixed, mixes, pets, pit bull, pit bulls, pitbull, pitbulls, ruling, specific, towson