ANNAPOLIS, Md. — All Maryland dog owners would be equally liable if their dogs bite someone but also would have a chance to defend themselves in court under a bill approved by the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday.
The House of Delegates gave final approval to a compromise measure that now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley. An O’Malley spokeswoman, Nina Smith, said the governor will make a decision based on a customary review of the bill.
The measure addresses a 2012 ruling by Maryland’s highest court that established pit bulls as an “inherently dangerous” breed. That made those owners and landlords strictly liable for bites.
The bill would change the law to apply to all dogs and hold all owners liable. A jury would decide if the owner should have known that his or her dog was dangerous. The bill holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries inflicted while a dog is running at large.
Pet owners and animal rights activists objected to the Maryland Court of Appeals pit bull ruling, because it focused on a single breed. Critics also contended the ruling made it harder for homeless pit bulls to be adopted.
“Passage of this compromise legislation ends this disgraceful era of court-sanctioned canine profiling, in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets,” said Tami Santelli, the Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Lawmakers today voted against singling out particular breeds in favor of raising the bar for all dog owners to protect victims of dog bites.”
The Maryland court’s ruling resulted from a Baltimore County case involving a 10-year-old boy who was severely injured a neighbor’s pit bull in 2007.
Passage of the bill came after a long fight. Lawmakers failed to pass a measure last year. They also came up short in a 2012 special session that had been called primarily to address gambling expansion in the state.
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