Friday, February 22, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies*

. . . . the common law of liability relating to attacks by dogs against humans that existed on April 1, 2012, is retained . . .
Maryland SB 160 2013
* * * * *
Revised: Mar 5, 2013: 15:42 GMT

The news following the Feb 21st vote in the MD House of Delegates has been contradictory and confusing. For example:
The measure would make it easier to hold all dog owners liable for injuries caused by their pets but also gives owners the opportunity to defend their pet in court.
(Washington Post)

. . . allows owners to prove there was no prior evidence of violent behavior and allows for defense of the animal’s behavior.
(CBS Baltimore)

A compromise forged in both chambers would lay responsibility on owners to prove their dog isn't dangerous if it bites someone unprovoked.
(Baltimore Sun)
How could the news be other than confusing? -- the bill itself says next to nothing about these matters the journalists discuss. The information we are reading in these columns today was given to the journalists yesterday by the lobbyists and spinners. The legislators who wrote SB 160 were necessarily vague on the details, in order to get a workable bill. We are left to imagine what will happen to victims, and the spinmeisters are working overtime to fill the gaps.

But some things are certain. Despite assurances (from Tami Santelli of the Humane Society of the US, among others) that SB 160 will provide a remedy for victims of dog bites, the opposite is true. Eminent dog bite law essayists (see The BSL Cliff) note that under Maryland Common Law, which will once again be in effect should the Senate pass the bill, it is difficult for Maryland victims of dog attacks to find a remedy.

There is little mention in the news of the "breed-neutral" provisions of SB 160. In the last thirty years pit bulls have killed 241 humans and disfigured another 1,302 (that we're aware of). Fully half of these casualties, 126 of the fatalities and 640 of the disfigurements, have occurred in the last five years. That amounts to an average of 25 pit bull canine homicides of humans a year, or a death every two weeks. (see below)

Are we to pretend that pit bulls are no more dangerous than a Yorkshire Terrier? Are we to close our eyes to these facts? To deny Maryland's future victims of pit bull attacks the right to refer to the breed of the attacking dog would be to impose a draconian gag rule, one which would deny the victims a legal remedy.

* * * * *

This post is one of a series on the Maryland pit bull conundrum. To view the index of all Maryland posts click here.

Statistics are from Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here.

House Approves Bill That Reverses Court Ruling,
    (CBS Baltimore, Feb 21, 2013)
Md. House unanimously approves dog bite legislation,
    (Washington Post, Feb 21, 2013)
House passes pit bull bill,
    (Baltimore Sun, Feb 21, 2013)
Maryland legislators reach compromise,
    (Washington Post, Jan 17, 2013)

Maryland Senate bill SB 160 2013
MD Court of Appeals establishes new liability rule in pit bull attack cases
* Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:
  The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America,
     by Michael Wheeler

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks