- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Maryland’s highest court has stepped back from a ruling creating a strict liability standard for attacks by any dog that is part pit bull, deciding it only applies to purebreds.

In an opinion filed Tuesday afternoon, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Bell wrote that making owners and landlords liable for any attacks by dogs that are part-pit bull, regardless of their history, was “gratuitous and erroneous.” The dog involved in the case that brought the ruling was a purebred pit bull terrier and its breed was never questioned.

“In short, the question of whether strict liability should apply to cross-breds was never in the case — was never asserted or argued,” Judge Bell’s opinion states. “By gratuitously including them, the Court has opined on an issue that was never raised or argued.”

The ruling goes on to say that since the issue of cross-bred dogs was never brought up in the case, the court did not get the opportunity to examine and define what makes a dog part pit bull. Judge Bell wrote that it is unfair to extend the liability standards to an ambiguous class of animals.

The controversial case was decided in April, four years after 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was badly mauled by a pit bull. The dog jumped a fence and attacked the boy, who was so badly injured he needed surgery and spent a year in rehabilitation. Dominic’s parents sued the property’s landlord.

Since the ruling came out, lawmakers and advocates for the dogs have called for new legislation to soften its impact on pit bulls. At the special General Assembly session earlier this month, bills were proposed to make all dog owners more liable for attacks, regardless of breed. While each house passed a bill to achieve this goal, the bills were too different for lawmakers to come to a consensus.