PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The highest state court in Maryland just ruled that pit bulls are so dangerous that the owners of that breed will be automatically responsible for injuries even if there’s no owner negligence involved.
So what does that mean for dog owners in Pennsylvania?
Are pit bulls an inherently vicious and dangerous breed of dog? That’s what the Maryland Court of Appeals held in a four-to-three decision that will affect every pit bull owner in that state.
It’s called strict liability.
“If we had a strict liability statute, and the dog — for example, in Maryland — was a pit bull and it bit somebody, they’re automatically liable,” says attorney Mitch Dugan, who handles dog bite cases for the injured. “You wouldn’t have to prove negligence. You wouldn’t have to prove that you didn’t have him on a leash, or that they broke through a fence or something like that.”
Dugan says to recover damages from pit bull owners in Maryland now all you’ll need to prove is that the dog who bit is part pit bull.
But that’s not Pennsylvania law, and local pit bull advocates say it never should be.
“Most pit bulls that I’ve known are stable and friendly and love people,” says Daisy Balawejder of Hello Bully that rescues pit bulls.
She says it’s like racism or sexism to classify a specific breed as dangerous when it’s the owners, not the dog, that’s at fault.
“Breed specific rulings of any kind are usually a knee jerk reaction to something that’s happened as a result of irresponsible dog ownership,” she adds.
State law prohibits local municipalities from banning any particular dog.
And if ever there was a pit bull who could be labeled vicious and dangerous, it would be a pit bull like Sam, an 8-year-old who was rescued from a dog-fighting ring in Jacksonville, Fla.
Sam’s face shows the scars of being forced to fight other pit bulls to save his life — but now is a different story.
“Sam is a big lapdog,” says Balawejder. “I mean he’s just a big love bug.”