Running with Squirrels

fostering dogs that need it most

Response from State Delegate Ben Kramer

Below is an email that I received from State Delegate Ben Kramer in response to the dog bite law that was recently left unresolved by the Maryland General Assembly.  Attached to the email were two documents, pasted below.  The first appears to be a position piece and the second is a letter from Del. Kramer to Governor Martin O’Malley.

I thought this might be of interest to those that have been following the legislative process.  My incredible frustration and anger regarding this issue has been well documented, so I will leave that behind at this point and focus on the future.  I think Del. Kramer has outlined a path forward that is reasonable and has the opportunity to result in some form of positive action.  I will be contacting the Governor and my state representatives to support this plan.

Fingers crossed for meaningful progress.

 

*Sorry that some of the formatting is not-so-easy on the eyes.  I tried to convert the PDFs and WordPress-friendly text but struggled a bit.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear friends,

I hope that you will take a moment to read the attached letter regarding the outcome of the dog bite liability issue in the 2013 Session of the Maryland General Assembly.
I too, am disappointed that the legislature remains unable to resolve this problem. However, the Conference Committee Report, which was presented to the House of Delegates with only 2 hours remaining, before the end of session, was not the answer (please see the attached letter).
There is no question that the Maryland Court of Appeals opinion, which concluded that all “pit bulls” are inherently dangerous and subject to a civil liability standard of strict liability, is ill conceived. Extending that same liability to property owners, including landlords, homeowner’s associations and condominium associations, etc., has further exacerbated the problem.
However, the answer is not to declare all of Maryland’s dogs to be inherently dangerous and burden every owner of a family dog with strict liability. That is exactly what would have happened with the Conference Committee Report had it passed.
There continues to be a chasm between the House and Senate Chambers on the issue of civil liability for dog owners. However, both Chambers and the dog bite task force, have all agreed that property owners should be restored to the pre-Solesky decision, with regard to liability. As long as property owners are held to a standard of strict liability, for dogs they have no control over, they will continue to rid themselves of the source of their liability. Therefore, pit bull owners will continue to be pressured to give up their loving family dogs or their family home.
Because there has been consensus among the legislature, with regard to property owners, I have sent a letter to Governor O’Malley requesting that he call a one day Special Session to vote on a bill taking out property owners from the Solesky decision. In doing so, we would take the pressure off of property owners and those who are being pressured to give up their pit bulls.
I am concerned that if we continue to take an all or nothing approach, to resolving the dog bite liability issue, we will continue to be left with nothing. A piecemeal approach may not be preferred, but it may be the only alternative and will bring some immediate relief.
I would ask that if you agree, that you please contact Governor O’Malley and your legislative representatives and call on them to pursue a brief one day Special Session to focus on the one area of consensus.
Thank you,
Ben Kramer
State Delegate D19
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maryland’s Family Dogs Are Not “Wild Animals”

In the waning hours of the recently concluded session of the 2013
Maryland General Assembly, the House of Delegates mercifully allowed a
Conference Committee Report, relating to a civil liability bill for dog
bites, to die without a vote. Conference committees consisting of
three members of each of the Chambers (Senate and House) are appointed
to seek a compromise when each of the Chambers has passed legislation
that is of a similar nature, but is not exactly the same. If a majority
of the Conferees in each of the respective Chambers agree with one
another on a compromise, then the Committee Report (detailing the
agreed upon legislation) is brought before the full body of each
Chamber for a vote. In this case, the dog bite legislation included a
new civil liability standard, for dog bites, that had not been included
in either the House or the Senate bills that had been passed in each of
the respective Chambers. That standard is called “strict liability”.
Heretofore, in Maryland law, strict liability has only been applied to
product liability (such as a defective toaster that catches fire and
causes injury) or injury caused by someone who owns a wild animal (for
example a person who houses a tiger or a mountain lion).

The members of the House of Delegates and I were not prepared to reclassify
every one of the domesticated family dogs, in the State of Maryland, as
wild animals and subject them to the civil liability that comes with such a
classification.

Under a strict liability standard, the injured person need only prove
that the wild animal caused the injury and that the defendant owned or
controlled the wild animal, to receive a judgment in a law suit.
Common law defenses such as contributory negligence or provocation are
not a bar to the finding of liability. The only defense is one of
“assumption of risk”, where the injured party knew that they were
taking a risk (in the case of a wild animal, the injured person knew
that when they climbed into the cage to feed the tiger that they were
at risk of injury by a wild animal).

The reason that the Legislature was entertaining new liability
standards, for dog bites, is a consequence of a Maryland Court of
Appeals opinion passed down this time last year. In reviewing a case
that involved a brutal mauling of a child, by a “pit bull” (a generic
term frequently used to refer to several different breeds of dog), the
Court concluded that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous. In doing
so, the Court stated that a standard of strict liability would apply
against an owner, in a civil suit, where an injury was caused by a pit
bull. The Court further exacerbated this ill-conceived finding, by
extending the strict liability to landlords whose tenants have a pit
bull that causes an injury.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court totally disregarded the notion
that bad owners create bad dogs. As a consequence, loving responsible
owners whose pit bulls are loving members of the family, have found
themselves in the unenviable position of giving up their family pet or
the family home, when landlords are threatening eviction, since they
don’t want the strict liability risk if the dog should cause an injury.

The State Legislature sought to find a responsible “fix” to this
difficult problem created by the Court of Appeals. However, the
Conference Committee returned to the House Chamber with amendments that
would create a strict liability standard for all breeds of dog.
Strict liability was never a part of either the Senate or House bills which

were sent to conference. Yet, with just two hours left in the 2013 Session,
it had found its way into the legislative proposal. If passed, the
Legislature would have been equating every family dog, with a wild animal.
The Conference Committee’s answer, to the ludicrous finding by the Maryland
Court of Appeals, that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and to be subjected
to a strict liability standard, was to declare all breeds of dog “inherently
dangerous” and subject to that same standard. This “compromise” was
absolutely unacceptable. I would equate the Conference Committee proposal,
with attempting to put out a grease fire in the kitchen by throwing gasoline
on it, instead of losing just the kitchen the whole house is now burned to
the ground.

There are states that have done this. But, it is typically very limited in
scope. For instance, the strict liability would only apply where a dog was
running at large, or had been previously determined to be a dangerous
dog (had previously bitten or attacked) or yet, the strict liability is
only applied in a case where a dog has caused serious injury or death
(which would address the maulings we hear about in the media). But, if
the Conference Committee proposal passed, here’s what would happen
around the State. The neighbor’s child, Danny, comes over to play.
Danny steps on the tail of the family poodle (intentionally or
unintentionally) while playing with the other kids in the house. The
family poodle instinctively turns and gives Danny a nip, not even breaking
the skin.

Danny’s parents have hit the lottery… Danny now has nightmares and
can’t sleep at night. He’s afraid to leave the house and has panic
attacks. Under the Conference Committee bill, Danny’s parents only have
to prove that the family poodle caused the injury and that the
neighbors own the dog. Now it’s time to collect for the pain and
suffering and mental anguish that Danny has suffered. The family which owns
the poodle receives notice from their insurance company that they will no
longer be covered by any injury that the poodle may cause in the future.
Rather than risk the huge liability, if the family poodle should cause an
injury in the future, the family dog is brought to the local animal shelter
to be euthanized. This scenario would have been played out, in hundreds, if
not thousands of different ways around the State, if that bill would have
passed. The only winners under the proposal would be the special interest
that was lobbying overtime for strict liability. The lobbyists for the
lawyers who would stand to profit handsomely from strict liability, have been
living in Annapolis, promoting strict liability across the board for all
dogs.

We all agree that those who are injured, by dogs, should be appropriately
compensated for their injuries. Unfortunately, the greed of a particular
special interest prevented the passage of reasonable and prudent legislation.
Fortunately, the House of Delegates refused to acquiesce and allow family
pets to be subjected to euthanization, en masse, and chose instead to
euthanize the Conference Committee bill. It was the merciful thing to do.

I will continue to work toward a resolution to the predicament that owners
of bully breeds are facing. However, the answer is not to be found in a
declaration that all breeds of dog are inherently dangerous and subject them
to a strict liability standard. I hope that those who truly seek to resolve
this problem will not be misled by representations that the solution is to
classify all of Maryland’s family dogs as “wild animals.”

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND 2 140 T
The Honorable Martin O’Malley
Office of the Governor
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1925
Dear Governor O’Malley,

As Governor of our great State, you have proven yourself to be a true leader on a
multitude of important legislative initiatives. Many of these accomplishments were
achieved as a result of your ability to communicate, to the public and the legislature, the
value of these initiatives in improving the daily lives of our residents.
Several of these measures were a challenge, however, your guidance and tenacity to
shepherd them through the legislative process, ultimately proved to be a formula for
success.
I am asking you to once again demonstrate your proven leadership and, in the
immediate future, call the Maryland General Assembly into a one day Special Session.
I know that you are well aware of the difficulties that have resulted from the Maryland
Court of Appeals opinion, with regard to the Tracey v. Solesky case.
In its ruling, the Court concluded that pit bull breeds of dog are inherently dangerous.
Additionally, the cour t established a strict liability standard in a civil action, from an
injury caused by one of these dogs, against not only the owner, but those who have the
ability to control the presence of where these dogs are kept.
As a consequence of this ill-conceived finding, landlords and condominium and
homeowner’s associations have been requiring that tenants and residents with pit bull
dogs, either get rid of their dogs, or face eviction or other legal action. These dog
owners are faced with the unconscionable decision of either giving their loving family
pets to animal shelters or losing their homes.
The state legislature has made a sincere effort to correct this problem and abrogate the
Court’s finding. Unfortunately, legitimate differences of opinion, as to the appropriate
standard for civil liability for dog OWNERS, whose dog inflicts a bite injury on another
person, has kept a legislative resolution to this issue from achieving passage.
However, both the Senate and House have unequivocally supported the notion that
liability for property Ov\’ners be restored to the pre-Solesky common law.
Therefore, I ask that you please use the prestige of your office and your skills as an
accomplished leader to stop the inhumane slaughter of innocent family pets and the
needless evictions of families not willing to part with a loving dog. Bring the legislature
back to Annapolis. Together, we can pass a bill that simply restores the common law
standard, pre-Solesky, to an owner of real property, including landlords, homeowners
and condominium associations, etc.
The legislature can continue to work, in the 2014 Session of the Maryland General
Assembly, toward an agreement with regard to the civil liability standard for the owner
of a dog that inflicts an injury, from a bite, on another person.
Governor O’Malley, I implore you to stop the carnage. Please meet with Speaker Busch
and President Miller and immediately bring us back to Annapolis, for but one day. I
am fully confident that given the opportunity to vote for a bill that simply takes
property owners out of the strict liability mandate of the Court, that my colleagues will
not hesitate to do so.
The humanity and kindness of your actions in this matter will surely not be lost on any
of the citizens of our wonderful State and will certainly seal your legacy as a Governor
who took the lead when circumstances demanded action.
I thank you for your attention to this critically important matter.
Sincerely yours,
Benjamin F. Kramer

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