Pit Bull Bills Appear Headed in Different Directions

Bills to overturn a Maryland Court of Appeals decision on dog bites will get a vote in both houses, but those bills may not have enough common ground to pass as law.

The fate of the pit bull legislation before the Maryland General Assembly remains uncertain as bills in the House and Senate appear headed in different directions.

The split is over strict liability for dog owners. The bill passed by the Senate Friday night in a 41-1 vote includes strict liability with a few carved out exceptions for things like provocation and trespassing.  

Just down the street the House Judiciary Committee spent the better part of the afternoon with four different bills that would—at least in part—return owner liability to common law standards.

Sen. Joseph Getty, a Republican who represents Carroll County and northern Baltimore County, was the lone vote against the Senate bill.

"[Strict liability] sets a very high standard that is improper," said Getty, following the Friday vote, adding that the bill as passed "shifts the burden to dog owners to prove they have a defense.

"It all means insurance rates will go up under strict liability," he said.

Getty said the future of the Senate bill as well as four other pit bull related bills is less certain in the House.

"That bill is going to take a different path," said Getty, speaking of the House debate and vote scheduled for Monday.

That path was articulated by Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, who repeatedly voiced his concern that insurance companies would jack up the rates for all dog owners if strict liability passed.

“Shouldn’t owners be responsible when he or she was negligent, not when he or she is not negligent,” Simmons said. “Why would you equate the negligent owner with the non-negligent owner?”

Simmons likened liability to car accidents, which also can have tragic outcomes. He said if strict liability was given to any person injured in an automobile accident “the structure would collapse.”

Del. Benjamin Kramer railed against anyone who offered the strict liability laws present in more than 35 other states as an argument for why Maryland should follow suit. The Montgomery County Democrat argued that each of the 35 with strict liability implement it differently, and the compressed timeline of the special session didn't allow for a nuanced debate on the issue.

He offered two bills for consideration. One would allow for strict liability to be applied only in certain instances that resulted in severe injury or death. The other Kramer bill would simply roll the clock back to common law liability as it stood on Jan. 1, 2012.

Even with an extended timeline Kramer seemed staunchly in the no category on strict liability for owners.

"Do you think the insurance companies are just going to sit back and not respond to this kind of sea change?" Krammer asked. "Folks like me, who are sure to be on that no coverage list, are going to be in the situation where we lose our homeowners insurance or we lose our pet."

If the House Judiciary Committee votes out a bill on Monday without strict liability, the two chambers could attempt to come together in a conference committee. But Democratic Sen. Brian Frosh, who sponsored the Senate bill, said that seems unlikely.

“This is the best we could do. So, we thought OK, we will give it a shot to get it done in this truncated environment," Frosh said. “If it gets real twisted and complex, I think it will probably unravel because nobody is planning to spend next week here."


Political Reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.

Baltimore Matt August 14, 2012 at 08:37 PM
They like stories where man bites dog as well ;)
Tony Solesky August 14, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Brian, You asked my motivation and I told you what I believe. I believe if you loan your car to someone and they get in an accident the insurance follows the car the same as if they run a light at a speed camera. I told you I think it makes sense to apply this to landlords. I chose to find a law that did that. I understand your position but that is a position of the law applied to how it is now. That is what I am trying to change in strict Liability. Because I believe it should work that way for all the reason I said. It does not mean it will or that I am correct. It means that how I see it. I think if you don;t like what comes with being a landlord get in another business. Or no pets both solve the problem Or require insurance for your tenates or get a rider. If being a renter means you can't have a dog, paint the walls a different color or smoke then buy if you can't buy you save the money from owning a pet and put it toward a town payment. I have very deep empathy for someone who loves their pet. I have no sympathy for someone that thinks the world should make exceptions for them to have it. My sister owns her home and has a Pitbull she completely supports the law and she is prepared and positioned to put her money where her mouth is. Again if you can't rent to a person in comfort without concern that their activities may make you liable then why would you wnat me to live next to someone who you aren't comfortable with. Now here is the lesson ---
Tony Solesky August 14, 2012 at 09:39 PM
most people here that talk about money that I want and yet their whole basis for arguement has not been the public Safety. Perhaps you should google Anthony Solesky testimony youtube and you will see what I am all about it is on the record. I love all of the feedback it tells me much. Where is your plan to keep bite victims safe? Mine was born out of a lawsuit. Why because I knew it is exactly what would make people get off of their ass and do something. So tell me before I brought suit what where any of you doing to stop the dog mauling problem? What is your plan now? Not in wiords but what government offical or agency are you working with to get a bill drafted? Perhaps you should run all of my statements through a profile all of them where I write and speak and am on the news. Perhaps you should ask a Police friend to profile me. Then ask them to look at your posts and have them profile you. What are you trying to catch me at being honest? I am sad for the many post that think my motivations are money. Not sad for me but sad for you who feel small somehow , for not doing more and then must tell yourselves noway somebody else could be do it for the right reasons. Long story short I told you all many times why I do it. It is in writing and media. Now all I will ask of you is have you ever considered that I do it for all of the reasons I say and if not why not?
SARAH ISSA August 15, 2012 at 02:42 AM
i wish you compliment of the season with great joy in my heart for coming in contact with you and i have a special reason of contacting you which i will make known to you when i get your respond o my email address (sarahissa130@yahoo.com) there i will tell you everything about me and the reason of contacting you . SARAH GOD BLESS YOU DEAR
Tony Solesky August 17, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Sarah, I have tried repeatedly to contact you. What do you want me to do with the money?


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