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New MD bill removes breed-specific language from animal-attack laws

If you've ever been the victim of a dog bite in Maryland, or know of someone who has, you know how bad a situation like that can be. And while the initial situation is traumatic, the aftermath is filled with enormous medical costs, long recovery time, and the uncertainty of whether the pet's owner will be held responsible for your injuries.

For a long time, in premises liability cases in which a person was injured by an animal, Maryland law required plaintiff's to prove that an animal was dangerous. Then, a 2012 decision added another layer to this law which made owners of pit bulls, and third parties such as landlords, automatically liable if the animal were to injure someone. Since then, some Maryland residents have felt singled out simply because of the breed of dog they own.

Since the 2012 decision, many animal rights groups argued that the language-specific law unfairly targeted one specific type of dog without taking into consideration that other breeds may also injure people. Fearing liability lawsuits, many landlords began refusing renters because they owned pit bulls.

After months of debating the issue, the Maryland House of Delegates thinks that they may have a solution that will not only free the law of breed-specific language but will help those injured by other breeds of dogs have a better chance at holding dog owners responsible for their pets.

In a unanimous decision, the delegates approved a new bill that will overturn the 2012 law specific to pit bulls, instead holding all pet owners accountable for their pets. The language of the new bill also frees landlords from being held accountable for the actions of their tenant's dog. Another change in language will also require dog owners to prove that their dog is not dangerous, instead of the plaintiff having to prove a majority of fault.

Although the new law clears up a large portion of the controversy, it's still important to point out that pet attacks will happen regardless of the wording of laws. For victims who suffer injuries, seeking swift action against the animal's owner could be the best way to ensure that an accident such as that never happens again.

Source: The Washington Post, "Md. House unanimously approves dog bite legislation," Kate Havard, Feb. 21, 2013

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