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Liability in Dog Bite Cases: Holding Owners Responsible for Preventable Attacks

Hoffspiegel Law Blog

Liability in dog bite cases

Over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the US each year, with half of those people requiring medical attention. Tragically, children are the most common victims of dog bites and are more likely to sustain serious injuries. 

Dog bite attacks can leave victims with thousands of dollars of medical expenses and other losses. Unfortunately, even if someone else’s dog was clearly to blame, it could be a challenge to get the compensation you deserve. 

Hiring a personal injury lawyer who knows the dog bite laws in your state can be the key to moving forward with your life after a dog bite injury. 

The “One-Bite” Rule 

While dog bite laws vary from state to state, they all have the same general purpose. Dog bite regulations are in place to keep residents safe and hold negligent pet owners responsible for the injuries their animals inflict on others. 

Many states employ some version of the “one-bite” rule. Georgia follows a modified version of this rule.

In Georgia, a dog owner can be held liable for damages under the following circumstances:

  • The animal owner knew or should have known that his or her dog would behave aggressively
  • The dog owner acted negligently in the management of the animal
  • The injured party did not provoke the dog

In other words, if it is shown that the dog had dangerous or vicious propensities, such as biting a person in the past, then the owner can be held liable for damages regardless of negligence.

The Definition of Serious Injuries Under the Responsible Dog Owner Act

A common misconception that people have is that only large dogs, such as rottweilers or pit bulls, can cause serious injuries. However, many dog bite claims are filed by people who have sustained serious injuries and scarring from smaller dogs. It is the animal’s tendency towards aggressive behavior that is the concern – not the size of the dog.

Under Georgia’s Responsible Dog Owner Act, the owners of dogs can be held liable if their animals seriously injure someone. This includes physical injuries that:

  • Require admission to the hospital
  • Result in broken or dislocated bones
  • Cause lacerations requiring sutures
  • Impair a person’s health through infection or contagious disease

How the Law Defines a “Dog Owner”

One excuse that people may try to use when dog bite injury claims are filed against them is that they aren’t the dog’s actual owner. For this reason, a definition of the term “owner” was included in Georgia’s dog bite law. 

An owner can include anyone possessing, harboring, keeping, or having custody or control of a dog. This could include dog sitters, veterinarians, or dog boarders that have animals in their care. 

In situations where the dog is owned by a minor, the term “owner” includes the parent or person with custody of the minor. 

What Is Considered a “Dangerous or a Vicious Dog”?

Under the “Responsible Dog Owner Act” a dangerous dog is defined as follows:

  • A dog that bites and punctures a person’s skin but does not cause “serious injury”
  • A dog that goes beyond barking, baring teeth, or growling and acts in an aggressive manner that reasonably causes a person to believe that the animal poses an imminent threat
  • A dog that kills a pet animal while off of the owner’s property unless the dog is a hunting, herding, or predator control dog

A vicious dog is an animal that inflicts serious injury on a person or causes a person to be seriously harmed while reasonably attempting to escape the dog’s attack. 

Legal Requirements for Dangerous Dogs

In an effort to protect people from dog bites, the law imposes various requirements on the owners of dangerous dogs. 

Dangerous dog owners must:

  • Register the animal and receive a dangerous dog certificate
  • Renew the animal’s registration annually 
  • Have a clearly visible posted “Dangerous Dog” sign at all entrances to the property
  • Keep the dog in a secure and locked enclosure on the property
  • Avoid taking the dog off of the premises unless it is in a crate or on a leash of less than 6 feet
  • Notify a dog control officer if the dog escapes the property, attacks someone, or dies

Failure to comply with these rules can result in misdemeanor charges and the dog being surrendered to animal control or a law enforcement officer. 

Establishing Liability in a Dog Bite Case

In Georgia, there are two main ways to hold a dog owner liable for injuries: the dog had a history of being aggressive, or the dog owner acted negligently and violated an ordinance in handling the dog. 

History of aggressive behavior

As discussed earlier, Georgia follows a modified version of the “one-bite” rule. This dog bite statute maintains that individuals would not be held liable for injuries caused by their animals if the owners were truly unaware that their dogs would behave aggressively. It is understandable that in some situations, a person may not know what his or her dog is capable of until something happens. 

To prove that a dog owner knew, or should have known, that his or her dog was aggressive, you can use evidence such as:

  • Animal control records
  • Testimony from neighbors who have had issues with the dog
  • Statements from eyewitnesses who saw the animal’s behavior
  • Veterinarian records
  • Documents showing a history of complaints about the dog made to the homeowners association 
  • Testimony from previous victims
  • Video footage and other physical evidence

Violation of an ordinance

Even if there is no evidence of prior aggressive behavior, you may still be able to hold the dog owner liable for injuries. 

Most counties require dog owners to follow leash laws. You could also file a liability claim on the grounds that an ordinance required the animal to be at heel or on a leash, and the dog was not at heel or on a leash when it attacked you. 

If a dog digs under or jumps a fence and escapes the owner’s premises, failure to prevent this could be considered negligence on the part of the dog owner. It is the responsibility of the dog owner or handler to ensure the animal is restricted to the property when it is not on a leash. 

Steps to Take After a Dog Injures You

The steps you take immediately after a dog injures you can make a difference in your physical health and financial recovery. 

If possible, take the following steps after being bitten by a dog:

  • Call 911. Contact emergency services and let them know if your injuries require an ambulance. If police are dispatched to the scene, be sure to file an official report. 
  • Exchange contact information. The most important piece of information you can obtain is the name, phone number, and address of the dog’s owner. Any compensation you receive will likely come from the dog owner’s insurance policy. 
  • Speak to eyewitnesses. If other people see the attacking or biting dog, be sure to exchange contact with them. Their statements could potentially be used as evidence. 
  • Take pictures. If you can, take pictures of the dog, your visible injuries, and anything in the area that would help corroborate your version of events (an open gate, a hole in the fence, etc).
  • Check for video footage. See if any video surveillance cameras or ring doorbells may have captured the dog attacking you. 
  • Contact animal control. Animal control can come and collect the dog if you cannot find its owner. Many areas require a dog to be quarantined after it bites someone to ensure it doesn’t have rabies. If the dog is registered, animal control may be able to help you tell you if the dog has been picked up before and has a history of aggression. 
  • Consult a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer can defend your rights if the dog’s owner tries to claim you provoked the dog and caused the attack. A lawyer can also help you recover compensation for your medical bills and other losses. 

Recovering Damages Through a Premises Liability Claim

Dog bites are preventable situations. Dog owners can and should take steps to prevent their animals from harming people. When owners fail to take preventative measures, they should be held liable for any injuries their dogs have caused. 

If you were harmed by a dangerous animal, it is important that you know your legal rights and options. Premises liability laws cover animal attacks in Georgia. A personal injury lawyer in your area can explain how premises liability covers dog attacks and help you file a claim for compensation against the at-fault property owner. 

While you focus on your recovery, a premises liability lawyer can begin building a solid case for you by:

  • Conducting a thorough investigation of your attack
  • Identifying the animal that attacked you
  • Identifying the owner of the dog that bit you
  • Establishing the full extent of your dog bite injuries
  • Gathering evidence to build a compelling case
  • Calculating a reasonable settlement for damages
  • Negotiating with the homeowner’s insurance company
  • Litigating your case in court if a fair settlement agreement cannot be reached

Compensation Available in Dog Bite Cases

The laws in most states allow dog bite victims to pursue compensation for their losses. Typically, a premises liability claim is filed, and the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance covers the cost of these damages. 

It is important to know how much your dog bite injury might be worth. This includes understanding the types of things you might be compensated for. 

The following are some types of damages available to dog bite victims:

  • Medical expenses: This includes past medical bills you have accrued from the dog bite as well as the expense of any future medical treatments if you need ongoing care. Common medical expenses from dog bites are doctor’s visits, x-rays, sutures, surgeries, prescriptions, and rehabilitation therapy. 
  • Lost wages: As a dog bite victim, your injuries may be so severe that you cannot return to work for a length of time. You should be compensated for any income you have lost as a result of the dog bite. 
  • Loss of earning potential: Your injuries from a dog bite may be so severe that you are permanently unable to return to your previous type of employment. In this case, your premises liability lawyer can help you recover damages for your loss of earning potential.
  • Emotional distress: Dog bite victims, especially children, may suffer from a fear of dogs, PTSD, nightmares, depression, and other traumas after the attack. 
  • Pain and suffering: A dog bite injury can cause extreme physical pain and suffering. A lawyer can help you calculate the value of this loss and include it in your claim.
  • Disfigurement: Puncture wounds, tears, and abrasions can result from a dog attack and leave a person with permanent scarring and disfigurement. 

In some rare cases, punitive damages are awarded in dog bite cases. A judge may award a victim punitive damages in situations where a dog owner showed flagrant disregard for the safety of others in controlling his or her dog. 

Act Quickly to Preserve Your Right to Compensation

As with all personal injury claims, you have limited time to file a dog bite claim. In Georgia, your right to recover damages is typically limited to 2 years from the date of the animal attack. 

While this may seem like a long time, it is important to contact a premises liability lawyer as quickly as possible after the dog bite. The sooner you hire a lawyer, the faster he can begin gathering evidence and building a strong case on your behalf. 

Failure to file a dog bite claim within the allowed time limit can result in you losing out on your right to compensation. 

Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer Today

Dog owners have a responsibility to prevent their animals from causing harm to others. If you or your child have been harmed by a dog, do not hesitate to contact our law firm today. 

The days and weeks following a dog bite attack can be overwhelming. You do not have to go through this difficult time alone. Having the legal warriors at Hoffspiegel Law represent you increases your odds of getting maximum compensation for your losses. 

We accept all dog bite cases on a contingency fee basis. Call our law firm at (404) 760-8600 or click the Contact Us button to get started.