Georgia Dog Bite Liability Attorney
Each day, almost 1,000 people are bitten by a dog. Every year, over 9,000 of them must be admitted to the hospital for treatment, to ward off serious infections and close their wounds.
If a dog has bitten you, you might wonder whether you have a legal claim. To answer that question, you will need to understand Georgia’s laws on dog bites, so you should meet with an experienced attorney to discuss your case. You can contact Slappey & Sadd at 404.255.6677 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.Statutory Dog Bite Law
Georgia’s dog bite statute is found at § 51-2-7, and it states that a person who keeps a “vicious or dangerous animal” is liable for damages if they allowed the animal to walk free or were careless in how they managed it, unless the victim provoked the animal. The statute also says that to prove “vicious propensity,” it is enough to show that the dog was “required to be at heel or on a leash by” by a government ordinance.
Georgia’s law performs a balancing act. On the one hand, it does not make dog owners automatically liable for every dog bite. However, it does hold dog owners liable when they have some reason to know the animal is dangerous or they know they should legally restrain the dog.
In practice, there are two avenues for victims to pursue compensation under the statute:
- Prove that the animal was vicious or dangerous, that the owner knew of this propensity to violence, and the defendant carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go free.
- Prove that the animal was required by ordinance to be on a leash or at heel, but the owner either carelessly managed the dog or allowed it to go at liberty.
If you can establish either, you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries.Let’s Look at Some Examples
Example #1: Melissa has a pit bull that has bitten her husband once, two years ago. Melissa knows about this attack, because she took her husband to the hospital for treatment. Melissa therefore knows that her dog has a violent propensity to attack others. If she decides to let her pit bull roam free and it bites someone else, then she is liable under the statute.
Example #2: Instead of letting her pit bull roam free, Melissa might have tried to tie it up but have done so clumsily. The dog breaks free of its restraint and bites someone. Melissa knows her dog has bitten someone before. Here, Melissa is also liable under the statute. Although she tried to restrain the dog, she did so clumsily and is, therefore, responsible.
But what happens if Melissa’s dog has never bitten someone before? Under the statute, a dog owner is only liable if the dog was “vicious or dangerous.” According to the Georgia Supreme Court, a dog does not have to actually bite someone. If it snapped at a person but missed them, then this could also qualify as proof of viciousness.
However, the statute also does not require that the animal has shown viciousness in the past. Instead, the statute can impose liability if a government ordinance requires that Melissa keep her dog on a leash or at heel. If a government ordinance to this effect exists, and Melissa either ignores it or carelessly restrains her animal, then she can be responsible for any injury her dog causes.The Provocation Defense
Georgia’s statutory law contains a big exception to liability. In particular, the person who is injured cannot have provoked the dog. Provocation can include many acts but usually involves attacking the dog first. It does not include such innocent actions as trying to pet a dog or even running up to a dog.
This can be a gray area, however. A person who notices that a dog is agitated but persists in trying to touch it could be partially responsible for the attack. At a minimum, this could reduce the amount of compensation that a victim receives.Landlord Liability for Dog Bites
What happens if the dog owner lives in an apartment? Is the landlord responsible for the dog biting someone that comes onto the property?
As an initial matter, it would be helpful if the answer was “yes.” Landlords tend to have larger insurance policies than renters. Indeed, some renters might not carry any renter’s insurance at all and might lack resources to pay out a settlement. Being able to sue the landlord could potentially increase the amount of compensation available.
Unfortunately, most landlords will not be responsible for any bites caused by their tenants. Under Georgia statute § 44-7-14, landlords are not responsible for damages once the landlord parts with possession of the property. An exception exists if the injury results from failure to keep up the premises.
This should relieve landlords of responsibility for dog bites in most cases. However, if you were injured in a common area, then a different statute comes into play. In some Georgia cases, a landlord has been liable when a dog bit a visitor in a common area, and the landlord knew the dog was dangerous.
If you have been bitten in an apartment complex, you face an uphill battle to hold the landlord responsible. Nevertheless, you need an attorney to carefully review the circumstances, because landlords are sometimes responsible.Speak to a Georgia Dog Bite Lawyer Today
After a dog bite, no matter how minor, you should immediately seek medical treatment to clean the wound and close it. Dog bites need constant monitoring to make sure infection or more serious diseases (like tetanus or rabies) don’t develop. If they do, then your life could be at risk. For help bringing a legal claim against the dog owner, please contact Slappey & Sadd today. We are experienced dog bite lawyers in Georgia who have helped many victims receive compensation for their injuries. Please call us to schedule your free consultation, 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including Fulton County, Cobb County, and Walker County.