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In Maryland, Pit Bulls No Longer Get 'One Free Bite'

One of the tort law maxims that I recall from law school is the "one free bite" rule for dogs (and their owners). Under the "one free bite" rule, if your dog bites and injures another person and has never done anything like that before, you are not liable for those injuries because the law assumes that you had no knowledge that your dog was dangerous. As the Dog Bite Law website puts it:

The rationale of the one bite rule was that domestic animals by definition were not injurious, and therefore liability could be predicated only on the defendant's knowledge that a particular animal had a propensity to behave in manner that was injurious to humans. Again, the rule applied to any type of injury, whether or not a bite.

This week in Maryland, however, the state's highest court found that the "one free bite" rule will no longer be applied with respect to one, specific breed of dog: the pit bull. In short, the Court of Appeal of Maryland determined that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous," thus eliminating the need for an injured plaintiff to show that the owner had actual knowledge that the specific pit bull involved was dangerous. The court specifically stated that it was "modifying the Maryland common law of liability as it relates to attacks by pit bull and cross-bred pit bull dogs against humans."

Three judges dissented from the majority's holding, arguing that 

Taking into consideration the lack of evidence in the record of this case with regard to the landlord’s knowledge of the vicious propensities of the dog, the conflicting studies about how best to control the dog bite "epidemic" mentioned herein, and the problems inherent in defining what constitutes a "mixed-breed" pit bull, the matter of creating a new standard of liability is fraught with problems and is beyond the sphere of resolution by any appellate court.

Posted by Bruce Carton on April 26, 2012 at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)


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