(May 3, 2012) – A court decision on pitbulls has outraged many dog owners and rescue groups, while some parents and victims are cheering. Maryland’s highest court ruled last week that pitbulls are “inherently dangerous.”
The Washington Post reports that the ruling stems from a 2009 incident that saw a 4-year-old boy mauled by a pitbull. The boy survived but suffered severe damage to his face.
Pitbulls are already outlawed in some parts of Maryland. The new ruling, however, makes ownership of a pitbull a liability risk anywhere in the state.
Reuters reports that dog owners are usually given “one free bite” before they are held liable. This means that a dog owner is typically held liable if they knew that the dog was potentially dangerous. For pitbull owners, the “one free bite” rule no longer applies.
The Maryland SPCA (Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals), which arranges pet adoptions, said that the new ruling was unfair since it targeted an entire breed. The SPCA said, “We believe that an animal’s behavior should be the determining factor in whether or not the animal is considered dangerous. We don’t believe that a particular breed should be pinpointed for that.” Rodney Taylor of Prince George’s Animal Management added, “All dogs, if you don’t train them and show them love, can turn out to be mean animals. It has a lot to do with the owner and how you raise the pet.”
The Washington Post reports that the new ruling could cause trouble for landlords and pet adoption agencies. Landlords with pitbull tenants will have to decide if its worth the risk to allow a pitbull to stay in their building, and adoption agencies say that the new rule will discourage people from adopting pitbulls. Animal advocacy groups have already started petitions to “stop pitbull discrimination in Maryland.”
The new ruling paves the way for legal action for anyone attacked by a pitbull or pitbull mix in the state. Not only will the owner of an attacking pitbull or pitbull mix be strictly liable for damages, but even a landlord who rents to a pitbull owner will be culpable. “When an attack involves pitbulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pitbulls are dangerous,” the court ruled in a case stemming from a young boy who suffered life-threatening injuries when he was attacked by a pitbull in 2007. The decision also stemmed from a series of cases where individuals were violently attacked. Previously, the victim in a negligence lawsuit had to prove that the specific pitbull was aggressive. Now, the breed alone is enough to establish a case for damages.
Court records state, “Over the last 13 years, there have been no less than seven instances of serious maulings by pitbulls upon Maryland residents resulting in either serious injuries or death.
Colleen Lynn, who runs an education website about dangerous dogs called DogsBite.org, wrote a brief to the Maryland court supporting the decision. She told CBS News, “When they attack, they don’t stop. This is what ends up killing people. Pitbulls are the top killing dog breed.” Lynn hopes other states will follow Maryland’s lead.
The decision is expected to fuel the increasing debate between animal rights groups and organizations that advocate the protection of people from dog attacks. One child being mauled by a vicious pitbull is too many.
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