Dog Attacks / Animal Liability

Irresponsible pet owners have increasingly become a problem, as almost nightly we hear on the local news broadcast about young children being attacked by unrestrained, vicious dogs.  Often times, it is the owner’s ignorance of his dog’s temperament that leads to these incidents.  Under Georgia law, an owner can be held liable for bodily injuries caused by a dangerous or vicious animal that he owns under a number of circumstances.  The relevant statute addressing liability for dog owners states the following:

A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal at any time and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured.  In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal is required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government, and the said animal was at the time of the occurrence, not at heel or on a leash.  O.C.G.A. § 51‑2‑7.

Traditionally, Georgia has been known as a ‘first-bite’ jurisdiction, meaning that a Defendant owner cannot be found liable for his dog’s actions in the absence of prior knowledge of his animal’s vicious propensities.  However, O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 states that Plaintiff does not need to prove that the Defendant had prior knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities if the owner is in violation of local leash or heel ordinance at the time of the attack.  It is incumbent upon the victim’s lawyer to review the county animal ordinances when undertaking representation in a dog attack case.

The statute also authorizes a finding of liability against an owner of a vicious animal through ‘careless management’ of the dog, which encompasses allowing the dog to roam free when children or other guests are in the property.  Most cases involving a non-leash law violation (or attack within someone’s residence) will require extensive investigation by the Plaintiff’s attorney into the dog and the owner’s background.  Often, these types of cases necessitate the filing of suit so the Plaintiff’s attorney can subpoena veterinary records and depose the owner.  Any prior attacks should be on records with the local county animal services, and evidence of previous vicious incidents involving the same animal can justify the awarding punitive damages at trial.

Most homeowners’ insurance policies have a liability component with policy limits designated to protect the insured from bodily injury claims for negligent acts or omissions by the homeowner.  By and large, injuries resulting from dog attacks will fall under the coverage provisions of most policies, so long as the insured disclosed the animal when applying for coverage.

The Houghton Law Firm has litigated numerous dog attack cases and more often than not, these cases involve young children.  Mr. Houghton is a strong advocate for responsible dog ownership and he truly enjoys being able to help out injured children and their parents in cases involving dog violence.

TIPS FOR VICTIMS OF DOG ATTACKS:*

  • Seek immediate medical attention for yourself or a loved one who has been bitten or attacked by a dog
  • Take as many photos as possible of the bite areas and any other bodily injuries sustained in the attack
  • Keep in touch with your county’s solicitor’s office to remain up to date with the prosecution of the Defendant for any criminal citation issued.
  • Do not submit to any recorded statements from the homeowners’ insurance carrier without first consulting legal counsel