Are There Legal Implications in Georgia for the Owner of a Dog That Has Bitten Someone?

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Close up of an aggressive dog's teeth barred before biting someone.In some cases, yes. Under Georgia’s “one bite rule,” if the owner knows the dog is potentially dangerous, they are responsible for keeping the dog from harming others by taking reasonable precautions. Owners of a “vicious” or “dangerous” dog who “carelessly manage” the animal may be liable if the dog injures another person. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes a dog “dangerous” and what you must prove to successfully bring a claim against a dog owner or their insurance carrier.

Does a Dog Have to Bite Someone Once to Be Deemed “Dangerous?”

No. Georgia law defines a “dangerous dog” in two ways: It has either caused a significant puncture of human skin with its teeth, or it has a history of attacking aggressively in a manner that threatens serious injury to a person. A “vicious dog” seriously injures someone by biting or mauling them or causes a person to get seriously injured while trying to escape the dog’s attack.

Georgia courts decide if a dog is dangerous by asking if a prudent owner or keeper had reason to think the dog might threaten other people. This generally doesn’t mean that the dog barked or growled at someone, but if they behaved very aggressively toward another person, the court might find the owner or keeper should have suspected it could be dangerous.

What If the Person Handling the Dog Isn’t the Owner?

“Owner or keeper” means that the person in control of the dog when it bites or attacks could be liable if they had knowledge the dog might be dangerous. For example, if you were bitten by a dog while it was out with a dog walker, it’s possible the dog walker may have been liable – especially if the owner warned the walker to keep the dog on a leash and maintain a reasonable distance away from other people or animals. If you were bitten by a dog under the care of a professional dog walker, they might have liability insurance that covers this situation.

How Do Local Leash Laws Affect a Dog Bite Case?

The Georgia “one bite rule” also considers a dog vicious simply because the owner or keeper violated local leash or heel ordinances. For instance, if your dog bites someone while running around off-leash in an area where they are required to be on-leash or at heel, you could be liable for the injuries it causes even if your dog had no prior concerning behavior.

Leash Laws in Atlanta

Atlanta requires dogs to be leashed in city parks, trails, and public areas that aren’t specifically designated as dog parks. If Atlanta PD catches you with your dog off-leash, they can write you a citation.

While there is no law against having a dog off-leash on your own property, you should be sure the dog is obedient about staying on your property. Otherwise, it could easily violate the city’s leash law by escaping from your yard. If the dog doesn’t do well with staying put, consider putting up a fence or keeping the dog leashed when outdoors on your property.

Exceptions to Georgia Dog Bite Laws

Several exceptions allow dog owners to avoid liability if their dog bites or injures someone:

  • Police and military dogs are exempt if they bite or attack you while doing their job.
  • Dog owners are usually exempt from liability if a dog bites someone who was trespassing on their property, or who was committing a crime or abusing the dog.
  • However, if a very young child wanders onto another person’s property and is bitten by a dog, they are often considered “immune” from the trespass exception.

What Do You Need to Prove to Win a Dog Bite Case?

It’s necessary to prove three elements in a dog bite claim:

  • The dog qualifies as “dangerous” or “vicious.”
  • The dog’s owner or keeper behaved carelessly concerning the dog.
  • You did not “provoke” the dog. Provocation can mean yelling at or hitting the dog, teasing it or taunting it, or trying to take its water dish or puppies.

What to Do if Your Dog Bites Someone

If you are present when the attack happens, get your dog away from the person as quickly as possible. If you can, secure the dog to a post or fence or place them in your car with the air conditioner on so you can go back and check on the person who was bitten. Ask if they are all right or need medical attention, and if so, call an ambulance. Stay with the injured person until help arrives.

The injured person may ask for your contact information, and you should also get theirs. Try to remain calm, even if they are angry and blame you for the attack, but you feel they provoked the dog. Getting into an argument will not help matters and often makes things worse. It’s best to avoid discussing fault at all.

The dog bite victim may want to contact authorities to report the attack – this is not required in Atlanta but is still a good idea. You should cooperate with authorities and honestly answer any questions from law enforcement, but again, don’t speculate about fault.

If you are not present when the bite or attack occurs, you should still see if the injured person needs medical attention and ask them what happened. Exchange contact information with the injured party, then look around to see if there were any witnesses to the attack. Try to get their contact info as well.

After providing your information and ensuring the injured person has the help they need, you should immediately take your dog home and contact a lawyer. They will investigate the situation to learn if the injury victim provoked the dog in any way.

In the future, keep your dog on a leash when you leave your property and try to walk them away from other people to avoid any further incidents. Seeing a dog trainer or behavior specialist may help you get to the bottom of the issue if your dog has never attacked anyone before.

What to Do If You Were Bitten by a Dog

First, get away from the dog as quickly as possible. Once you are somewhere safe, check your wounds and get medical attention if needed. If you can safely stay at the scene and exchange information with the dog’s handler, you should do so, but we understand that sometimes this isn’t possible. If the dog is chasing you and doesn’t appear to have a human owner trying to intervene, it may be safer to leave as quickly as you can to prevent further injury.

Call 911 and report the dog attack. If you had to leave the scene, explain where it happened and where you last saw the dog, then describe the animal to the best of your abilities. If the dog is not with a person, Animal Control will try to find and detain it.

After seeing a healthcare provider to get your wounds cleaned and treated, call a Georgia dog bite lawyer immediately. We will seek evidence in your case immediately, including trying to track down the dog’s owner if they weren’t present at the attack.

Will Insurance Cover Your Damages If You Were Bitten by Someone Else’s Dog?

If you can prove the dog was dangerous or vicious, that the owner or keeper handled the dog thoughtlessly, and that you didn’t provoke the dog, the owner or keeper may be liable. However, they may not have the money to pay for all your damages, such as medical bills, lost income from missing time at work, pain and suffering, and more.

Your dog bite attorney will look for relevant insurance policies to make collecting damages easier. In some cases, homeowner’s insurance may cover a dog bite. If the dog was deemed dangerous or vicious, the owner should have an insurance policy specifically for dog bites under Georgia law (but they may not be in compliance). If you were bitten by a dog at a business, their business liability insurance might also apply. For example, if you were leaving the grocery store with your purchases and a stray dog in the parking lot bit you, the store’s insurance may cover this situation (depending on the policy details).

Why Should You Call the CEO Lawyer Personal Injury Law Firm About Your Dog Bite?

In many cases, the dog’s owner does not want to be held responsible, nor does any relevant insurance carrier. One or both parties may claim you were at fault for provoking the dog, even if you know you didn’t. Or, the insurance company may try to avoid paying your claim on a technicality. If they agree to pay, their initial offer may be too low to cover all your costs.

An experienced attorney from the CEO Lawyer Personal Injury Law Firm can help you navigate these difficulties. We’ll investigate the bite or attack, go over your medical records, review the police report, and return to the scene to talk with witnesses. We may be able to find witnesses that Animal Control missed while searching for the dog. In some situations, we’re even able to locate the owner of a dog Animal Control couldn’t find. Additionally, we will try to track down any video evidence that could show the bite, such as from a doorbell or security camera. Once we’ve built a strong case, we’ll fight for your right to compensation for your injuries.

Your initial consultation is always free, and we don’t charge anything until we win or settle your case, so please contact us today to learn your options.

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