Appellate court strikes down Balto. Co. animal control law Provision does not exist anywhere else in state

March 28, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Court of Special Appeals struck down yesterday a Baltimore County animal control ordinance, saying it goes too far in penalizing residents for damages caused by their animals.

Maryland's intermediate appellate court ruled that the Baltimore County provisions expose animal owners there to civil suits that their counterparts in other jurisdictions would not face.

The 20-year-old law allows anyone injured by any type of animal to collect damages from the owner, regardless of whether he is negligent.

It is a provision that does not exist anywhere else in the state.

Baltimore County exceeded its authority in enacting the ordinance because it created an avenue for private parties to sue each other in state courts, the ruling says.

"We do not call into question Baltimore County's authority to regulate animals and matters related to their presence. However, a county may not create a new cause of action between private parties concerning matters of statewide concern," Judge James R. Eyler wrote in a 23-page, decision.

Virginia Barnhart, Baltimore County attorney, said yesterday that she would recommend that the County Council amend the code to reflect the ruling.

The case stems from a Nov. 4, 1990, accident in which a car driven by Gillian Leigh Pleines hit two horses owned by Gunpowder Horse Stables Inc. on Philadelphia Road near Jones Road in the Bradshaw section of eastern Baltimore County.

Ms. Pleines' insurance company, State Farm Auto Insurance Co., sued the stables in 1993, alleging negligence and violations of the animal control law, which holds animal owners liable for "any damage to the body, clothing, or other property of any person."

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. awarded State Farm $8,250 in damages after a June 28, 1995, trial. Gunpowder appealed.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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