A jury in Montgomery County awarded $545,000 in damages stemming from a pit bull attack on a 7-year-old girl. The case follows a key Court of Appeals ruling (Tracy v. Solesky) that determined pit bulls to be inherently dangerous and that owners would face strict liability.
The girl was at her father's home, which was a rental room in Silver Spring. The girl was bitten by the dog that was owned by her father's landlord, Andrew Kupert. The dog bite attack left the girl with scarring after enduring five surgical procedures and she reportedly still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The allocation of damages included $275,000 in economic damages and $270,000 in non-economic damages.
Kupert was not home at the time of the incident. However, the plaintiff felt that Kaupert should have been held strictly liable and exhibited negligence. The dog had a history of complaints and the plaintiff suggested that Kaupert was an unfit dog owner. In 2011, the dog had also bitten a mail carrier.
The defense had experts testify that the dog may not actually be a pit bull and challenged the theory of the breed's inherent dangerousness. While the jury was deliberating, the settlement agreement was reached. One of the plaintiff's attorneys explained that the case highlighted several flaws in the Tracy v. Solesky dog bite laws.
Maryland Dog Injury Statute
In actions brought against the owner of a dog for injuries or death, the evidence presented showing that the dog caused the injury creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner was aware (or should have been) that the animal had dangerous potential. In actions brought against someone other than the dog's owner, the common law dog liability provision is applied regardless of the breed of the dog. Dog owners are liable for injuries, death or property damage that a dog causes when running loose unless:
- The injured party was trespassing on the owner's property
- The injured party was in the act of committing (or attempting to) a criminal offense
- The dog acted in response to abuse, teasing or provocation
The statute defines a dangerous dog as one that has caused severe injury or killed a person without being provoked. This includes incidents where a dog has bitten someone on private or public property, or has killed or severely injured a domestic animal when not on their owner's property. The owner of a dangerous dog must not leave the animal unattended unless it is kept securely indoors, or is confined to an enclosed structure.
If a dangerous dog owner gives or sells the dog to another party, they must notify the local authorities of the new owner and their address. The individual assuming ownership must be made aware of the dog's dangerous behavior. Violators may be subject to a fine of up to $2,500.