Court Upholds Pit Bull Ruling, So Associations Should Adopt Pit Bull Rules
Maryland’s Court of Appeals reconsidered its April ruling in Tracy v. Solesky regarding liability for pit bull attacks. In its original April opinion, the Court in Tracey v. Solesky held that a victim of a pit bull or crossbred pit bull attack only needs to show that an owner, or other person who has the right to control a pit bull or a crossbred pit bull’s presences on the property, knows or has reason to know that the dog is a pit bull or a crossbred pit bull for purposes of evaluating liability. The Court has now reconsidered its ruling and opined that the strict liability standard above will apply only in cases involving purebred pit bulls. Any reference to crossbreds will now be stricken from the original April opinion. The Court eliminated the strict liability standard for crossbred pit bulls because the question of whether strict liability should apply to crossbreds was never an issue in the case and further, it is not clear what ‘crossbred” actually means.
Despite recent consideration by the state House and Senate (“Maryland General Assembly Adjourns Special Session Without Passing Pit Bull Legislation”), a person who has the right to control a pit bull’s presence on the premises – including a community association - may still be liable in the event of a pit bull attack.
As explained in "Maryland Now Considers Pit Bulls and Pit Bull Mixes Inherently Dangerous Animals," depending on your type of community as well as your governing documents, your association may wish to consider adopting rules banning pit bulls from the community or imposing strict conditions if an owner/resident maintains such a dog on the property. In evaluating such modifications to existing policies or rules, the association even could consider grandfathering in existing pit bulls with considerations, such as mandating that such dogs be muzzled when on property controlled by the association and requiring that each pit bull owner sign an indemnification agreement, which would have the owner assume all liability and indemnify the association for any and all claims for damages arising from their pit bull’s actions. We also recommend that your association immediately contact your insurance carrier to determine whether your association has coverage for a claim of this nature or whether this change in the law would take such claims outside the coverage provided by the existing policy.
Ruth Katz is a community associations attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland who helps boards and managers with contentious issues such as pit bulls. For more information about how this ruling may impact your community, contact Ruth at (301) 657-0188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.