FAQ’s About Atlanta Dog Bite Laws
The injury lawyers at Millar & Mixon, LLC know how frightening it can be when you or a loved one is bitten or attacked by a dog. Dog bites can cause very serious injuries that have a lasting impact. The trauma of being attacked by a dog also can leave emotional scars in many cases.
Georgia law holds owners responsible for their dogs, including being liable for people’s safety around animals that are dangerous. Under our state’s laws, a person injured by a dog that attacks, bites or mauls them may be able to obtain compensation from the dog’s owner for their injuries and losses.
Because Georgia’s dog bite laws are complex, we have compiled some answers to questions we frequently hear from clients about dog bites. If we can help you further, a Millar & Mixon, LLC dog bite lawyer is available to discuss your concerns in a free initial consultation.
Getting immediate medical attention is always a priority after a dog bite incident, even if the injuries do not seem serious. You may need stitches, a tetanus shot or other treatment to prevent infection. In addition to obtaining the medical care you need, seeing a doctor will provide documentation of your injuries, which will be useful evidence if you file a legal claim.
If you seek compensation from a dog’s owner after being bitten by a dog, documentation of injuries and medical treatment will be the primary evidence to support your injury claim. You should keep any torn or bloodied clothing and get photos of your dog bite injuries. This evidence can help to demonstrate the extent of the harm you (or a loved one) suffered.
After a dog bites you or a family member, you should also get information about the dog’s owner, including his or her name and address, and information about the dog, such as how recently the animal received a rabies shot. Get the names and contact information for witnesses to the bite incident in case the dog’s owner tries to claim the dog was provoked. If the dog owner is cooperative, get the name of their homeowners’ or renters’ insurance company.
Insurance will likely pay any compensation you receive through a lawsuit, which is a fact you might remind the dog owner of. The money you seek as fair compensation for your losses will not come out of the dog owner’s pocket.
If you do not know who owns the dog or it is a stray, you should try to contain it, such as in a fenced area, if you can do so safely.
Contacting animal control is a good idea regardless of who owns the dog. Animal control will test the dog for rabies and may issue a citation.
Finally, you should contact an experienced Atlanta dog bite lawyer. Georgia law makes dog owners responsible in certain situations when their dogs bite or attack. You will want a lawyer to help you deal with the dog owner’s insurance company, negotiate a settlement or represent you if you must take your dog bite claim to court.
Georgia’s dog bite law is one of the strongest in the country. Local ordinances can also support a dog bite claim. This provides dog bite victims with two different legal arguments they can use to hold a dog owner responsible for injuries their pet causes.
First, you may be able to hold a dog owner liable if you can show that the dog was dangerous, that the owner knew or should have known the animal was aggressive or a bite-risk, and that the owner was careless in handling the dog, or in letting it roam freely. This can be a little bit tricky to prove unless the dog has previously bitten someone. However, witness statements and prior evidence of aggression can help you prove your claim.
Another option for taking action is to show that there were leash laws or local ordinances dealing with at-large animals, and the dog owner violated these laws. If you are bitten by the dog while the dog is unleashed or running free, you can take action against the dog’s owner by showing that the owner wrongfully or carelessly failed to obey requirements to secure the animal.
An Atlanta dog bite lawyer from Millar & Mixon, LLC can help you determine what the evidence in your case supports. For example, if local law requires that a dog be on a leash six feet long or shorter, but the dog was on a 16-foot leash, this could potentially be a violation of leash laws leading to the owner’s liability. We would check with local authorities to determine whether the dog owner had been previously cited for violations or the dog was involved in an attack prior to the incident in which you were injured.
To learn more, please check out our video, GA Dog Laws – Proving Liability.
In a personal injury lawsuit after a dog bite, the injured party may seek compensation for financial losses and for pain and suffering. In some cases, a plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages as a means of punishing a defendant who acted with total and willful disregard for others’ safety.
The three types of damages that can potentially be recovered in dog bite cases in Georgia are referred to as special, general and punitive damages.
- Special damages cover actual financial losses due to medical expenses, property damage (such as clothing or jewelry), lost income and, in the case of a death, funeral and burial expenses. It is important to calculate past and future medical expenses, such as for impending reconstructive surgery, as well as future income loss because of diminished earning power for a dog bite victim who has been disfigured or disabled.
- General damages are compensation for non-financial or non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress and, in a fatal dog attack, loss of companionship. The amount of general damages obtained through a dog bite lawsuit would be decided by a jury, or through negotiations with the defendant’s insurance company. Often they are calculated as a multiple of total special damages awarded.
- Punitive damages are intended to punish a dog’s owner if the owner was especially reckless or negligent in his or her conduct leading to the bite incident. They also serve as a warning to others who would act as recklessly. Punitive damages are generally capped at $250,000 in Georgia.
As your dog bite claim representative, a Millar & Mixon, LLC attorney would gather the evidence to show how badly you were harmed by your injuries so that you receive the full amount of compensation that you deserve. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are determined based upon what is necessary to punish the at fault party.
In some lawsuits, a jury may award punitive damages (compensation) to punish a defendant for acting with willful or wanton recklessness. A dog owner who allows a pit bull to wander unleashed could potentially be considered wantonly reckless because pit bulls are notoriously dangerous breeds.
Punitive damages are specifically designed to punish the defendant financially and are appropriate in situations where the dog’s owner was not merely negligent but where there was “willful misconduct, wantonness and entire want of care.”
In other words, if someone is really careless or purposefully does something wrong, punitive damages make him pay. Although the punitive damages are a punishment, the money goes to the injured victim who has taken legal action, unlike criminal fines, which go to the government.
An example might be a daycare supervisor who has a pit bull that has bitten people before and who lets the pit bull wander free in the yard where children are playing.
Punitive damages in Georgia are generally capped at $250,000.
A dog owner could also potentially face criminal punishment for gross negligence that led to a dog bite.
Millar & Mixon, LLC’s investigation of your dog bite case would indicate whether the dog owner’s behavior was such that punitive damages are appropriate. If they are, we would pursue them aggressively.
My neighbor is claiming my child provoked her chained dog to break free and bite. Can I still take legal action?
Failure to keep a dog secure can be considered negligence on the part of the owner, but if a victim was partially responsible for provoking the dog this factor could reduce the amount of compensation paid for a claim. But cases that involve children are different, so you should let a Millar & Mixon, LLC attorney explore a potential claim for you.
First we would want to determine whether the dog owner was negligent. When a chain or leash breaks, this can be considered careless handling of a dog. If the dog’s owner knew the animal was vicious or if there are ordinances prohibiting the dog from running free, the dog’s owner may be liable for an attack, even if the animal broke a chain or leash to get to the victim.
Next, we need to consider Georgia’s comparative fault rules, which say a victim’s damages may be reduced by whatever percentage of blame for an injury is attributed to the victim. If the victim was at least 50 percent responsible for a dog attack, then he or she would be barred from obtaining compensation.
The dog owner would have to establish conclusively that your child’s provocations existed and that they caused the dog to break its chain and attack.
But assuming your child did provoke the dog, the law recognizes that children have less accountability than adults for their actions. Children up to age 4 are presumed to be incapable of negligence. For children who are older, a jury would have to consider the child’s actions and his or her capacity for understanding the consequences of those actions (if the case was not settled by negotiation).
Like all dog bite cases, it is better to have an experienced personal injury attorney examine the facts and investigate the accuracy of the neighbor’s allegations about whether a dog bite was provoked.
Can a workers’ compensation insurance carrier take some of the money I get in a lawsuit for dog bite injuries suffered on the job?
Yes. If you are bitten by a dog while doing your job, such as many postal workers and other deliverymen are, you should be able to obtain workers’ compensation for your injuries. If you later obtained compensation from the dog owner’s insurer, the workers’ comp insurer would have a right to ask for its money back. But this should not dissuade you from pursuing a lawsuit.
Workers’ compensation benefits cover medical bills and pay stipends to make up for a portion of lost wages when a worker is injured while performing the duties of their job. The damages awarded in a dog bite personal injury lawsuit would pay for medical bills and lost income / wages, but also property damage, such as torn clothing, and the victim’s pain and suffering. In a case where a worker died from his or her injuries, a wrongful death lawsuit would also seek funeral and burial expenses. In a few egregious cases, a dog bite victim could also receive punitive damages.
The workers’ comp insurance company could only seek to recover money for the medical bills it covered and lost wage benefits it paid you. They have no claim on any of the money you received for property damage, pain and suffering, or funeral and burial expenses.
We would keep this in mind as we shaped your lawsuit’s demand for compensation and as we weighed our advice to you about settlement offers.
At Millar & Mixon, LLC, we understand your concern about paying legal fees on top of the medical bills you are dealing with after a serious dog bite injury. But any fee you pay us will be a percentage of the compensation we obtain for you through a settlement or court award. You won’t pay anything if we don’t win your case.
Our representation of you on a contingency-fee basis is a win-win for you. You do not pay legal fees unless we win the case and collect money for you. If we don’t win the case, you have had a full investigation and airing of your claim without cost to you.
When you win, our legal fee will be an agreed-upon portion of the compensation paid to you for your losses and pain and suffering. There will be no surprises, and no money paid to us will come out of your existing assets.
Our goal is to ensure that you receive the full amount of damages the law allows and that you aren’t left with any financial losses. If we don’t think we can do that for you, we’ll decline to take the case.
Millar & Mixon, LLC has obtained more than $60 million in favorable verdicts and settlements since the firm was established. This includes successfully representing adults and children in dog bite cases.
To learn more about how we help children who have been hurt in dog attacks, watch our video, A Dog Bite Case We’re Proud Of.
To learn more about the legal services we provide, watch our video, Dog Bite Attorneys in Georgia. You can also contact us today online or via phone to schedule a free consultation.