Maryland General Assembly Abrogates Court of Appeals Decision Imposing Strict Liability on Pit Bull Owners and Their Landlords

Yesterday, Governor O’Malley signed SB247, officially abrogating the 4-to-3 decision in Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627 (2012), which imposed strict tort liability on pit bull owners, and on their landlords, for injuries caused by pit bulls.

Instead, in actions against dog owners, the new Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3–1901(a) imposes “a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities,” regardless of the dog’s breed.

But subsection (c) imposes strict liability on an owner for injuries caused by a dog “running at large,” regardless of the dog’s breed. There are exceptions for injuries to persons “committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner,” “committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person,” or “teasing, tormenting, abusing, or provoking the dog.”

As to actions against landlords or other persons other than the dog’s owner, subsection (b) provides that the “common law of liability relating to attacks by dogs against humans that existed on April 1, 2012, is retained as to the person without regard to the breed or heritage of the dog.”

Although the Act expressly “abrogate[s] the holding of the Court of Appeals in Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627 (2012),” the Act does not “have any effect on or application to any cause of action arising before the effective date of this Act,” which is April 8, 2014.

Because Tracey itself was “prospective and applies to this case and causes of action accruing after the date of the filing of this opinion,” the new statute limits Tracey’s effect to causes of action accruing between April 27, 2012 and April 7, 2014.

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