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Liability Alert – No Pit Bulls Allowed!

On April 26, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals significantly modified the Maryland common law on liability for attacks by pit bulls and cross-bred pit bull mixes. As a result, the only corrective action that an owner or landlord may be able to take to avoid liability for harm caused to another by a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix on the premises is to exclude such dogs altogether.

The Court of Appeals held that a pit bull or any cross-bred pit bull mix is deemed to be vicious and dangerous as a matter of law. Thus, whether an owner or landlord has any reason to know that a particular dog is dangerous is now irrelevant to the standard of liability when it comes to those breeds. In the words of the Court, the owner or a landlord (who has the right/opportunity to ban such dogs) will be held liable regardless of actual carelessness or intent to harm for any damage a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix causes from or on the premises if the owner or landlord "knows or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix. . . ." As a result of the Court’s decision, the only way to avoid liability for pit bull or mixed breed pit bull attacks is to not possess or allow possession of this specific breed of dog on the premises.

A word of caution, this decision could have significant ramifications beyond dog ownership and landlord/tenant relationships. This decision will impact lease terms, insurance coverage, and general business operations. Those concerned about potential liability for pit bull attacks would be well served to review the decision with counsel and consider its impact. For a copy of this case or for more information, please contact Lee Lundy at (410) 752-9705 or email Lee at llundy@tydingslaw.com.