Dog Bites & Attacks
Dog Bite And Attack Cases In The Metropolitan Atlanta Area
Nearly one thousand people are bitten or attacked by a dog each day across the United States. Sometimes, such attacks give rise to civil liability and sometimes they don’t. Our Georgia injury law firm helps dog attack victims determine whether or not their particular situation is one where the dog owner might be held liable.
First, which dogs are most likely to bite? Of course, any dog might attack, but some breeds are statistically more dangerous. Among those breeds are: pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiffs, boxers, and “mixes” of those dogs. How do you determine whether or not the owner of a dog might be liable for injuries, medical care, and emotional trauma that often follow attacks? First, it is important to know that Georgia does not have a “strict liability” law for dog bites (as do some states). That simply means that, in Georgia, just because a dog bites someone, the owner is not always liable. When might be the owner liable? When the dog owner knows, or should know, that the dog has vicious propensities (i.e., the dog is mean, aggressive, prone to biting, or has attacked before), he might be liable to someone attacked by the dog. Second, if the dog was required by City or County ordinance to be on a leash, and it wasn’t when it attacked, liability may arise.
Lawyers who handle dog bite and attack cases in Georgia have a variety of ways to investigate whether or not a particular dog has been a problem before an attack. Local governmental agencies like Animal Control, Police, and Fire Departments often have records on prior dog attack calls, categorized by address. In addition, we may send an investigator out to a neighborhood in order to interview witnesses regarding knowledge of a dog’s history. You would be surprised how word spreads throughout a community once a dog attacks. Likewise, our law firm investigates owners and their dogs using various legal websites and research engines. In fact, in one case, we uncovered a blog written by an owner who had been attacked by her own dog before that same dog attacked our five-year old client and caused serious injuries.
A real and practical concern for many dog bite victims in the Georgia is whether the homeowner or renter has any insurance. Generally, it is quite difficult to recover money for dog attacks (or any other kind of personal injury) direct from the assets of the responsible person. Fortunately, most homeowners and renters carry insurance, which usually provides coverage for attacks/bites by their pets.
Dog attacks often results in substantial skin lacerations, which may require the attention of a plastic surgeon. Depending upon the area of the body injured, resulting scarring (particularly in children) may result in substantial emotional trauma. There is a tremendous amount of study and literature devoted to the psychological affect of scarring on young children.
Our law firm has represented many victims of dog bites and we welcome the chance to investigate those cases.
While pit bulls are the breed of dog normally associated with attacks, there are many breeds that cause injury to humans when not appropriately leashed or supervised.
The state of Georgia generally follows what is known as the “first bite” rule in determining whether a dog owner has sufficient knowledge that his dog has the propensity to bite or attack someone. Hamilton v. Walker, 235 Ga. App. 635 (1998). It is important to keep in mind that, contrary to the name, the “first bite” rule does not “literally require a first bite.” Phiel v. Boston, 262 Ga. App. 814, 816, (2003). What is important, and what gives rise to liability, is a dog owner’s prior knowledge that the dog has the propensity to do the particular act (biting or attacking) which caused injury. Therefore, to hold a dog owner liable for monetary damages, the injured party must show that the dog had the propensity to bite or attack and that the owner had knowledge of that propensity.
How do you prove what the dog owner knew? Georgia courts have held that “[I]n order to infer the requisite knowledge there must be at least one incident that would cause a prudent person to anticipate the actual incident that caused the injury.” Durham v. Mooney, 234 Ga. App. 772, 77 (1998). In “plain English” that means that prior to the bite or attack at issue, the injured party must be able to prove that on at least one occasion the dog exhibited behavior which should have alerted the owner that it had the propensity to bite or attack.
There are numerous leash and dog constraint ordinances that vary by the particular locality (county, city). When investigating a dog bite or attack case, it is vital to determine: who owned the dog, who owned the property where the attack occurred, what insurance companies may cover the dog/property owner, whether the dog should have been on a leash, and whether the person handling the dog had appropriate control. It also may be important to investigate whether the dog had escaped from the particular property before the bite or attack at issue and if any efforts were made to adequately contain the animal.
O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 deals with “vicious animals” and the liability which may attach if such an animal is allowed to escape, roam free, or be off leash.
Atlanta, GA 30338
Phone: (404) 869-1580