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Cindy Sellers
Cindy Sellers
Cindy Sellers's Blog

Potential Liability Where Tenant has a Pit Bull

As you may know, in 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that owners of pit bulls are strictly liable for any attack by a pit bull against humans. Specifically, the Court held “... Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls are inherently dangerous.” The effect of the Court’s Decision is to impose strict liability against an owner of a pit bull and a landlord where a tenant who owns a pit bull attacks a human. The Court’s Decision overturned the common law as existed in Maryland prior to this case and simply decrees that pit bulls, as a breed, in essence, are deemed to be wild animals to the same extent as a lion, tiger or other wild animal.

While over-simplified, the common law of Maryland had previously provided for what is sometimes referred to by attorneys as the “one bite rule.” That is to say, as a domestic animal, the owners of dogs and cats were not liable for an attack by a dog or cat upon a human unless the owner has knowledge that the dog or cat has a propensity to be aggressive or vicious in nature or to inflict serious or sometimes fatal injuries. Under the common law, the owner of such animal was not liable unless and until the dog and cat actually acted in an aggressive and/or vicious nature towards a human or inflicted serious and sometimes fatal injuries by attacking or biting such human. Once the “one bite” had occurred, the owner was deemed to be on notice that the animal is aggressive and vicious. The owner then had a duty to protect third-parties from such conduct by the domestic animal. Because of this case, the owner of a pit bull as well as a landlord where a tenant owns a pit bull or possibly a Condominium or Homeowners Association was “strictly liable” for any attack upon humans by such pit bull.

The Court’s decision was troubling in many regards. Indeed, it was so troubling that the Legislature modified it the following year. The 2014 law eliminated the “strict liability” standard for a person who has the right to control the presence of a pit bull on the property (owner, landlord, or association), which had been established in the Court of Appeals’ decision. In effect, the new law places the responsibility, for a pet bite or other injury on the owner of the dog and returns to previous common law liability known as the “one bite rule” for parties who are not the owner of the dog.  

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