Pit Bull Attack Injures Boy--What is required by Georgia law to hold a dog's owner liable?
According to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Walton County, Georgia, woman saved a boy from a vicious attack by three pit bull dogs. According to the story the woman risked her own life to save her neighbor. She was injured and the boy received serious facial injuries and was flown to Egleston Hospital.
Dog bites are much more common than one may think. I have written before on how they are the number one basis for homeowners insurance liability claims. The pertinent statute in animal bite cases is O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7. This statute provides:
“A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind 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 was 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. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated fowl including roosters with spurs. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated livestock.”
What are the elements of O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 that must be proved in asserting a claim?
The elements of this statute are:
- A person owns OR keeps,
- A vicious or dangerous animal,
- Which the person carelessly manages OR allows the animal to go at liberty,
- Injury is caused by the careless management or letting the animal go at liberty, and
- The injured person does not provoke the injury.
How does one prove the dog is a vicious or dangerous animal?
Unfortunately, a single attack, though seemingly evident of a vicious or dangerous nature, is insufficient under Georgia law. In Georgia a plaintiff must show "whether the dog had the propensity to do the act that caused the injury and, "if so, whether the owner had knowledge of that propensity." Wade v. American National Insurance Co., 540 S.E.2d 671, 246 Ga. App. 458 (2000). In fact, the law even presumes presumes "that dogs, regardless of breed, are 'of a harmless species . . .'" Steagald v. Eason, 300 Ga. 717, 797 S.E.2d 838 (2017).
In other words to hold the owner or keeper of the dog liable you must prove (a) the dog had a propensity to bite, attack, etc. and (b) that the owner/keeper knew of such propensity. One prior similar incident will typically be sufficient to overcome summary judgment. Dog bite cases often require research and investigation regarding animal control records, interviews of neighbors, and any other sources of information regarding the dog's vicious nature. This is especially true if a dog bite occurs inside the owner/keeper's home, in a fenced yard, or other place where the dog is not roaming freely.
However, the plain language of O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, has an exception to the propensity and knowledge requirements outlined in the paragraph above in cases where the dog was required by some ordinance or law requiring the dog to either (a) be on a leash or (b) be at heel. If a dog attack occurs in a jurisdiction (and many cities and counties in Georgia have leash laws) with such an ordinance, then the vicious propensity can be shown by mere proof of a violation of the ordinance.
Let's all hope for a healthy recovery for the child and the neighbor. Vicious attacks such as the one in the AJC story can result in catastrophic, life-altering injuries, and even death. If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or loss in a dog bite or dog attack case, please contact Gwinnett County based injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation.
Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.