Georgia ranks ninth in the country for dog bite claims. State Farm reports that in 2012, it paid out a total of $3.3 million for 121 dog bite claims in Georgia alone. Dog bites are among the leading causes of injury to children between the ages of five and 14. Despite these statistics, Georgia’s dog bite laws have come under harsh criticism for being far too favorable to dog owners.
The Georgia dog bite law
Under Georgia law, for a Georgia dog owner to be found liable for a dog bite, that owner must have:
Knowledge of the dog’s viciousness — they knew or should have known that their dog is dangerous
Allowed their dog “to go at liberty”—they let their dog go off-leash or otherwise carelessly managed their dog in violation of a local ordinance
If an ordinance is violated, an owner may be held liable for their dog’s actions whether or not the dog is considered dangerous. Note that the owner of any dog who is not properly collared and restrained (even if they break free of their leash) may be held liable under the statute.
In all other cases, the Georgia statute still adheres to the “one-bite rule,” an outdated principle that a dog owner is only responsible for injuries caused by their animal if that animal has previously demonstrated a dangerous propensity (has acted viciously in the past) that the owner knew or should have known about. The law defines “vicious propensity” as having caused injury to someone without provocation.
If you cannot prove that the dog has ever injured or displayed vicious tendencies before, you may be out of luck suing even for horrific and disfiguring injuries. An aggressive and knowledgeable dog bite lawyer, however, may be able to prove that a dog that has never bitten anyone before is vicious by presenting evidence to the court ?usually in the form of witness statements ? regarding the dog’s previously aggressive behavior.
The need to fight for compensation in all dog bite cases
Georgia’s archaic dog bite law is clearly at odds with current opinion and established knowledge about why dogs bite and who should be responsible when they do. While we wait for lawmakers to revise the Georgia statutes and bring them in line with modern dog bite law, we are seeing an increasing number of Georgia judges speaking out against this bad law that places little responsibility on irresponsible dog owners and denies compensation to those who are injured through no fault of their own.