By: Steve Lash
Dels. Benjamin Kramer, left and Kathleen Dumais, both Montgomery County Democrats, get into a heated exchange about the dog-liability bill on the House floor Monday night. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)
Del. Benjamin Kramer, whose opposition to legislation imposing near-strict liability on dog owners led to the measure’s death in the House, said he wants the General Assembly to have a one-day special session to pass legislation to relieve landlords of their strict liability for injuries caused by their tenants’ pit bulls.
Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he has not consulted yet with either Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s and Calvert, or House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, on a special session. However, Kramer said he plans to send a formal request to the governor soon after meeting with fellow legislators.
Landlords, fearing strict liability, have forced tenants to choose between staying in their rental abodes or getting rid of their pets, Kramer said.
“We have an obligation and a responsibility to protect the family pets of our residents,” he said. Tenants “should not be put into that position. That’s what we have to stop.”
He added that providing relief to landlords from strict liability remains the unfinished business of the 2013 General Assembly session, which ended Monday.
O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said “the governor would likely have a conversation with legislative leaders and the delegate” before committing to a special session.
Maryland’s top court imposed strict liability on landlords in its April 2012 Tracey v. Solesky decision, which also held pit bull owners strictly liable for injuries their dogs cause.
The Senate-passed legislation that died in the House as the General Assembly adjourned would have held dog owners, regardless of breed, liable for injuries their pets cause to children under age 13. Owners could escape liability only if the child had trespassed or provoked the dog. For people 13 and older, owners would have to rebut the presumption of liability by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that they had no reason to suspect their dog had a vicious propensity.
Kramer opposed the Senate bill, saying on the House floor Monday that the measure would unfairly make a dog owner liable whenever “little Fifi” nipped at a child. On Wednesday, Kramer said the Senate and House should reconvene to pass legislation on which he said both chambers agree: that landlords should not be held strictly liable.