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Senate Compromises on Dog Owner Liability Bill

The bill gives owners a chance to go before a jury in the event of a dog bite.

A new bill regarding dog owner liability is working its way through the General Assembly; it passed through the Senate but the House must still review the measure. (Credit: Cherokee Animal Shelter)
A new bill regarding dog owner liability is working its way through the General Assembly; it passed through the Senate but the House must still review the measure. (Credit: Cherokee Animal Shelter)

By Tamieka Brisco, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

In a unanimous vote Friday, the Maryland Senate passed legislation that would hold owners of all dog breeds liable for bites, but allow owners to challenge that liability in court and let a jury decide.

The bill has been the subject of lengthy debate. In what lawmakers called a “compromise” between the House and the Senate, the measure holds the owner liable if their dog attacks someone, but the owner also has a right to offer a defense to a court jury. The measure states that evidence that the dog caused an injury or death creates the rebuttable presumption of whether the owner knew, or should have known, that the dog had dangerous propensities.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, voted for the bill despite earlier, strident opposition. “I think it is a much better compromise,” Zirkin said.

Zirkin had publicly opposed prior versions of the measure, stating that it did not provide adequate protection for dog-bite victims. In prior interviews, Zirkin said that he wanted to make sure the right bill passed and that he would not relent. “I don’t care if I am the only one left standing.” Zirkin said early February.

Lawmakers have tangled over similar measures in the wake of a 2012 Maryland court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

The bill is next headed to the House of Delegates, where Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said Friday that he would support the measure.

Simmons said that there were parts of the initial bill that both the House and the Senate did not like, but he and Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, worked together on a compromise.

Simmons said the matter of “strict liability” was one of the issues from the bill that needed compromise because no other area of law places strict liability on the owner, including automobile accidents.

He also said that the widely debated “one free bite rule” is not applicable under the measure. The measure passed Friday does not require proof that a dog has previously bitten someone. Instead, it requires that a dog has shown a past propensity for violence, such as aggressive behavior.

"I can live with it," Simmons said of the amended measure passed by the Senate. "I am going to support the bill that comes over."

Simmons said that he doesn’t have a problem with the amendments, but thought it “unwise” for the Senate to add amendments, because it undermines the process and may complicate passage in the House.

“If we amend it, it isn’t a compromise,” Simmons said he previously told House members on the subject of possible amendments. He said that now, because the Senate bill passed with amendments, this may “open the floodgates to everyone that has amendments.”

Chet Brewer March 06, 2014 at 02:15 PM
James, sure you aren't a member of the Baltimore police department, killing puppies that sort of thing
James Freeman March 08, 2014 at 07:53 PM
Buck and Chet - since you both presume to know enough about me to accuse me of various things, I'll respond in kind. I have never hurt, much less killed a dog. The reverse is not true. A troll? Are you insulting my appearance, Buck? Buck Harm? Is you name a description? There is NO back pedaling on my part. I wanted to provoke dog lovers to THINK about the issue of unrestrained dogs. I obviously DID succeed in provoking dog lovers - but only into revealing their own deep seated bigotry and hatred for anyone who does not share their uncritical admiration of these beasts as MORE worthy of protection than human beings. I REPEAT! I am jogging or biking down a public road. I am molesting or interfering with no one. A dog runs out of no where and attacks me. WHY do you insist that I HAVE DONE SOMETHING WRONG?
Chet Brewer March 08, 2014 at 09:56 PM
James, the only thing you have done wrong, by your own admission is make a bunch of inflammatory comments then act shocked when you get a response. You didn't get anyone to reveal a thing, you just got people to respond to your crud in kind. Have a really nice day.
Buck Harmon March 08, 2014 at 10:44 PM
James, Mark had this statement right.."Truth is - you're an angry troll who's been called out and now you're trying to backpedal through your story and come up with some self-preservation".

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