Bills have passed in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates that would alter dog-bite liability in Maryland after a 2012 Court of Appeals ruling that singled out pit bull owners and their landlords for virtually automatic liability in the case of a bite. While that ruling caused a fair amount of chaos as some landlords forced tenants to give up their pits, the new law (assuming the two bills will be successfully merged) would make landlords generally not liable and presume liability for dog owners regardless of breed.
That presumption of liability for dog owners does not amount to “strict liability,” however, and some critics of the legislation argue that a provision for the neutralization of that presumption — the owner is given the opportunity to prove that the dog had been otherwise docile — undermines the purpose of the bill and comes close to a “one-free-bite” policy.
Personally, if I were a dog-bite victim — and I didn’t provoke the attack — I would find it hard to fathom a decision that found the owner not liable. If the owner isn’t liable, then who is? Me?
Why should the landlord be responsible?
The specific case-law being addressed by this legislation is just plain bad. Actually, it is embarrassingly bad. It had very little to do with who was responsible for the injury, and very much to do with who has some money that we can arguably connect in some tenuous way to this situation. The family that owns the dog went bankrupt, but what good is a responsible party if they can’t pay for the injuries they cause. Well, the court apparently decided that if the actual responsible party has no money, then we just have to hold someone else responsible, someone with some money . . . how about the landlord? I suppose if there had been no landlord, they would have held the mortgage-holding bank responsible. If the note on the home had already been paid-off, well then I suppose the state would be responsible . . . or perhaps the Federal Government.
Who is responsible if you get bitten by a fox? Or a spider? Who is responsible if a meteor hits your house? I mean it must be someone, right? If its not your fault, there has got to be someone. There are no accidents anymore. Some person must pay for that injury, or pain, or suffering. And whey I say someone, what I really mean is someone that actually has an asset or two. Not necessarily a lot of money, but something. If the actual responsible party has the audacity to be impoverished, well, we’ll let’s just keep going until someone can pay.
Just to be clear, I agree with you that the landlord should not be responsible, and the ruling that found the landlord liable after the owner was unable to pay certainly seems (to me, not a legal expert) fishy.
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