Dangerous Dogs: What’s in a Name?

In Dundalk during March, a pit bull mix dog attacked a 20-month-old girl in an unprovoked mauling that left the girl alive, but with likely permanent facial scarring.

In June, a South Baltimore boy was taken to the hospital after being attacked by a pit bull. Witnesses say children in the area were teasing the dog, which was tethered in the backyard of its owner. The dog broke its restraint, jumped the fence and attacked the seven-year-old boy, who received bites to both arms.

According to the American Humane Society, more than 4 million dog bites occur each year, leading to approximately 800,000 injuries requiring medical care. In Maryland, liability for injury caused by a dog bite flows to the owner if the owner knew, or had reason to know, the dog was dangerous. This one bite rule means dog owners are not strictly liable for the damage done by their dogs.

That said, in 2012, the Court of Appeals of Maryland ruled purebred pit bull dogs are inherently dangerous and owners of pit bulls are strictly liable for the damage done by their dogs. This shortsighted measure condemned purebred pit bulls, but not crossbreeds or pit bull mixes.

As pointed out by the Humane Society, pit bull is not a breed, but a common name for dogs like:

  • American pit bull terrier
  • American Staffordshire terrier
  • Staffordshire bull terrier

Realistically, the judiciary needs to identify which dog it is talking about or the legislature should extend strict liability to all dog owners for injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of breed, as is the policy in 35 other states.

In Maryland, there remain different standards of liability for dog bite injuries. If bitten by a dog, speak with a reputable personal injury attorney.

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