A compromise aimed at overturning a court decision that singles out pit bulls as "inherently dangerous" appears to be collapsing.
The State Senate is expected to vote this week on its version of a bill that extends strict liability to all dog owners. The bill passed in a preliminary vote on Tuesday.
“Whether it's a pit bull or a poodle for that matter, if your dog attacks somebody, you should be responsible for it,” said State Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).
Under the Senate’s version, the owner of a dog that bites someone would have to prove that he or she didn't know the dog was dangerous, in order to defend him or herself from a lawsuit.
“If your dog attacks, unprovoked, you should be responsible for it, not the victim,” Sen. Zirkin said.
But that bill is different from a version the House of Delegates passed -- unanimously -- last month.
Under that version, the dog bite victim would have to prove that the owner should have known the dog was dangerous.
“The house bill gives a tremendous amount of momentum to a victim who has been harmed to recover damages for any harm that they have occurred,” said Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County).
On Sunday, a pit bull mix attacked and bit a toddler in Dundalk; the girl’s uncle, Nathan Bellman, pulled the dog off of her, and told ABC-2 News: “She was always good around people; never once was there a sign of her even being capable of something like that.”
Sen. Zirkin talked about that case Tuesday night; he was the sponsor of the amendment that altered the House’s bill.
“The Dundalk case is a perfect example,” Sen. Zirkin said. “You have a baby, a 20-month-old, who is doing nothing except sitting on a couch. If we just kind of do what the House says you're ratifying a law that will probably leave that family paying for all of the medical care.”
Before the session began, leaders in the House and Senate had agreed on what is now the House's version, as a way of ending what advocates call "breed discrimination" against pit bulls.
Supporters in the house say the Senate's change raises the possibility that a compromise might not happen, which would leave the current law singling out pit bulls in effect.
“If you raise the standards up even more than that, basically what you're doing is you're beckoning people to come into court and try to recover when they don't necessarily have the grounds to do so,” Del. Cardin said. “The worst possible scenario is that we can't come to some sort of an agreement.”
Sen. Zirkin says that's not the worst case scenario -- he says that would be passing something unfair to dog bite victims. "In the name of doing away with that part of the decision, we shouldn't ratify a law that leaves a victim like that without compensation,” he said.
If the Senate’s bill does pass, it would be up to negotiators from the House and Senate to see whether a compromise between the two bills can be found.
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