Greenbelt Grapples with Pit Bull Liability

Some officials wondered whether HOAs, cooperatives, condominium associations, or even the city could be held liable in pit bull attacks.


Greenbelt City Council grappled Monday to understand whether the city and housing communities could be sued in the case of pit bull attacks. The discussion was the result of a much-debated decision by Maryland's Court of Appeals earlier this year that landlords and owners could be held liable for pit bull injuries.

Prince George's County has had a ban on pit bulls since 1997, but Councilman Edward Putens was concerned that in cases where residents broke the ban, the court’s decision did not clarify whether responsibility for injuries could extend beyond dog owners and landlords to homeowners associations, condominiums, housing cooperatives, or the city, for that matter.

If it did, he worried that the results could be disastrous.

“We got some home associations that are almost going bankrupt because they can’t collect their fees. And then you add on top of it an award of $500,000," Putens said. "You might as well just tell them 'Go sink it, and just burn the houses and run away.'"

City Solicitor John Shay told council that it was unclear whether the court's decision could extend that far. For now, the ruling only addressed making dog owners and landlords liable, he said.

Shay suggested that the Maryland legislature could take actions to resolve some of the questions prompted by the the court's pit bull decision. Mayor Judith "J" Davis suggested council share its concerns with Prince George's County Council and Maryland Assembly officials at its annual legislative dinner in December.

Davis mentioned the housing cooperative Greenbelt Homes, Inc. regarding liability. She asked Shay how the court's ruling could affect its members since they don't own their property, but it is owned by the full body.

Shay said it was unclear what a court would decide in a case involving a cooperative which has control over the presence of animals on its property and a board that has knowledge of someone owning a pit bull. But what was clear was that trouble would follow.

"I can guarantee you one thing, if that pit bull bites somebody, the coop’s going to get sued," Shay said.

In its ruling, the Appeals Court included as liable "the owner or other person(s) who have the right to control the pit bull's presence on the subject premises and knows or has reason to know the dog is a pit bull."

In light of court's decision, Councilman Rodney Roberts asked under what circumstances it was more likely for a housing association to  incur liability—when it had regulations concerning dog ownership or when it had none. The association that had taken steps to control dog ownership would more likely incur liability, according to Shay.

As for the City of Greenbelt, its code does not address breed bans. Greenbelt respects the county's ban, said Celia Craze, who manages the city's animal shelter.

“It’s the cleanest, easiest and least problematic way of addressing it," she said. "Breed bans are a messy place to be. I don't suggest the city be there."

Roberts concluded that the best route may be not to have any policy and to allow the county or city policy have control.

RoastPuppy November 15, 2012 at 05:34 PM
There is no way to force owners to carry insurance, just like there is no way to keep people from driving without motor vehicle insurance. (You can take away their license, but they can still drive.) You can insist people show "proof of insurance," but there is no way to ensure the person pays the premiums and the insurance isn't canceled. Waivers releasing others from liability mean nothing if the person signing the waiver has no means to compensate those injured for their damages. It's just like when apartment owners require tenants to have tenant homeowners' insurance for damages from waterbeds, negligence, etc. If the insurance policy lapses and there are damages, the landlord must pay for such damages. Finally, the type people who own pit bulls usually lack the proverbial pot and regardless of what they may AGREE to do, you can't get blood out of a turnip!
savethem November 15, 2012 at 07:56 PM
The type of people who own pit bulls. RoastPuppy stereotyping millions of dogs and dog owners. How did RoastPuppy get to be such an expert on people and dogs? What kind of dog do you have RoastPuppy and can you shed some light on what all those dog owners are like? I guess because you own one those people are so much better right?
lauren derise November 15, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Its not a pitbull problem. Its a dog problem. Who is defining pitbull? Akc doesn't. There is no data available anywhere stating what breed is the most dangerous. If a coop resident owns a presa or a lab for that matter, and the dog causes harm, why would the breed negate the court's ruling. Am staffs or "pitbulls" are no more dangerous then any other breed of dog. Granted a chihuahua can only cause so much damage, but where do you draw a line? Rottwielers, shepherds, bulldogs? How dare you put all pitbull owners under one umberella. Fyi statefarm, because of the lack of dog bite data, covers all dogs equally.
Colleen Carter November 15, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Ignorant people making ignorant remarks.... The CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a 10-year study that concluded, "neither pit bull-type dogs nor Rottweilers can be said to be more “dangerous” than any other breed based on the contents of this report." PG County conducted in in-county study on their BSL, which concluded that it did not lower incidents of dog aggression or improve public safety, and the conclusion of the study recommended lifting the ban. Most insurance companies insure people with pit bulls. Those that do not have a long list of dogs that they do not insure, such as Rotweilers, Dobermans, etc. State Farm and the other insurance companies who are not so ignorant are very happy to get their rejected business. We have lazy dimwits sitting on our high court in Maryland, and that is unfortunate. But our General Assembly should have slapped them down by now. It's also unfortunate that our lawmakers are leaving us in this situation because they cared more about casinos than their own citizens.
lauren derise November 15, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Well said colleen. Could not agree with you more.


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