Alexander Pyles//Daily Record Business Writer//June 26, 2012
//Daily Record Business Writer
//June 26, 2012
ANNAPOLIS — With plans to hold a special General Assembly session in July on life support, a task force studying a ruling by Maryland’s high court that imposes strict liability on pit bull owners and their landlords has slowed its deliberations.
After meeting twice in two weeks while trying to draft legislation, members of the task force on Tuesday agreed to delay their next meeting until September or October, with an eye toward having legislation ready for the 2013 regular session.
“We had set this meeting because we thought there was going to be a session July 9,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, co-chairman of the task force. “There’s not going to be.”
The 10-member task force is leaning toward drafting legislation that would overrule the Court of Appeals ruling that called pit bulls “inherently dangerous,” making dog owners and their landlords responsible for damages in the event of a dog attack.
The task force might draft legislation that would apply strict liability on all dog owners, regardless of that dog’s breed, but with a laundry list of exceptions. For example, if a dog was being provoked before it attacked, owners would not be liable.
“Landlords are a more difficult call,” Frosh said. The group is considering making the burden of proof greater in cases brought against landlords. Victims may need to prove the landlord was negligent in order to win a lawsuit.
Animal rights activists have feared the court’s ruling would lead to mass euthanasia of the dogs, and pit bull owners have feared eviction by their landlords.
Richard Montgomery, director of legislative relations for the Maryland State Bar Association, said the group did not have an official position because there was not yet draft legislation.
“None of the sections [of MSBA] have conflicting viewpoints,” Montgomery said. “They all have issues with the court ruling.”
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, asked Frosh if there was something the task force could do before the next legislative session as a “stop gap” measure, but Frosh and assembly lawyers said lawmakers had no recourse outside of session.
Del. Curtis S. Anderson, D-Baltimore, co-chairman of the task force, said it would have been difficult given “the variance of opinion” for lawmakers to pass legislation in an abbreviated special session.s