E-Alert Case Updates
Maryland Legislature to Consider Liability for Dog Bites and Judicial Compensation in Upcoming 2014 Legislative Session
by Wayne C. Heavener, Associate
During the upcoming 2014 Legislative Session, the Maryland General Assembly will consider the following issues:
Liability for Dog Bites
In the upcoming legislative session, the General Assembly will consider legislation to reverse the rule of law established by the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision in Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627 (2012). Until the Court’s decision in Tracey, an owner of any breed of dog could he held strictly liable for injuries arising out of a dog bite if the victim could show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. The Court of appeals modified this rule in Tracey, holding that an owner or landlord could be held strictly liable for dog bites from pit bulls (or pit bull mixed breeds), so long as the owner or landlord knew or should have known that the dog was part pit bull. After the Tracey decision, and amidst criticism of the decision, the General Assembly formed the Task Force to Study the Court Decision Regarding Pit Bulls in June 2012. The Task Force heard testimony on the issue, but did not propose its own bill to reverse Tracey. Rather, individual legislators introduced bills on the issue.
The bills introduced in the 2013 session provided the General Assembly with two (2) general options for reversing the Tracey decision. One option would be to return the law to its pre-Tracey standard, restoring the common law requirement that an owner knew or should have known that his or her dog has dangerous propensities in order to establish liability, regardless of the dog’s breed. The second option would be to “ratchet up” the standard, and impose strict liability for all dogs, and not just pit bulls. Some bills introduced in the 2013 session proposed a combination of these two (2) options, reversing the Tracey decision and establishing a rebuttable presumption that a dog owner knew or should have known that his or her dog had dangerous propensities. The General Assembly was unable to reach a consensus on any of the proposed legislation, and the Tracey decision remained in effect.
A major concern for the General Assembly in the 2013 session was the effect of any law on the availability and affordability of insurance for homeowners and renters. According to the Maryland Insurance Administration, the top ten (10) insurers in Maryland underwrite about 85 percent of the homeowner’s insurance market in the state. Some of these insurers include exclusions in their policies for losses caused by specific breeds of dogs. The largest homeowner’s insurer in Maryland, State Farm Insurance Company, will not refuse insurance based on the customer’s dog breed, but will adjust its premiums for any dog bites that occur. A representative of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America indicated, however, that the multitude of factors involved in determining the cost and availability of homeowner’s insurance made it impossible to identify the impact of liability standards for dog bites.
The General Assembly will revisit the issue of judicial compensation in the upcoming legislative session. In particular, the Judicial Compensation Commission will make salary and pension recommendations for judges. The Commission will make its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. The General Assembly must then introduce a joint resolution incorporating the salary recommendations in each house of the Legislature. While the General Assembly may amend the resolution to decrease salary recommendations, it may not increase them. Judicial compensation will go unchanged if the General Assembly rejects any of the Commission’s recommendations. The salary recommendations introduced in the upcoming session will be part of an on going three-year plan introduced in 2012. Under this plan, raises would be implemented across all seven (7) judicial salary levels in the years 2013, 2014, and 2015.
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