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In Georgia, when does a dog bite or attack victim assume the risk of being bitten?

Published March 11, 2018 by Bruce Millar

In the past we have discussed Georgia’s ‘first bite rule’ also known as the ‘one free bite’ rule in Georgia Dog Bite and Dog Attack cases.  In Georgia, courts take the position that dogs are presumed harmless. Unless it can be proven that the owner knew that the dog has behaved viciously or demonstrated dangerous behavior previously and that the victim did not assume the risk of being bitten or attacked, there is little or no chance for recovery of damages. This rule can make bringing a dog-bite case to court and actually winning difficult for the novice or inexperienced victim or lawyer.

A Local Dog Bite Case Teaches Us How Georgia Works

As we see in the case below, even when a dog-owner knows that his animal has demonstrated aggressive and dangerous behaviors before, he can still slip through the cracks in the law and escape penalty. We find this in the case of Stolte v. Hammack, 311 Ga. App. 710 (2011).

This case involves two roommates, one of whom owned both the dwelling and the dog in question. The dog on at least one occasion previously bit a visitor to the home in full view of several witnesses. It was established that the owner and his roommate both knew that the dog had the capacity to attack without provocation.

The roommate agreed to walk the dog one morning when the dog’s owner was late for work. Since the first unprovoked attack, the dog had been restricted to his owner’s room when the owner was not at home. When the plaintiff opened the door to the room, the dog attacked him, grabbed his right arm and continued to maul him leaving bite wounds on his arms, chest and stomach. The plaintiff was hospitalized for three days as he recovered from his wounds and his stitches and staples began to heal.

The injured man brought an action for damages based upon both the Georgia premises liability statutes and Georgia’s vicious animal statute.

An Owner That Did Not Have a Clue About His Dog’s Violent Behavior – How it Plays Out

The defendant requested that the court grant summary judgment in his favor since the owner did not have superior knowledge of the dog’s propensity toward vicious behavior.  The trial court granted this motion agreeing that the roommate knew just as well as the dog’s owner that the dog was dangerous when he voluntarily opened the door to the room where the dog was being housed. Armed with this information, the roommate should have known that the dog might bite him and taken steps NOT to interact with the animal.

The plaintiff appealed insisting that he was “coerced” into agreeing to walk the dog by the owner of the dog and the townhouse. The appellate court was not persuaded that the roommate had been threatened with being evicted if he did not walk the dog. The grant of summary judgment in favor of the dog’s owner was upheld.

Once again we see that dogs and dog owners can win the day when they go to court. That does NOT mean you should ignore a dog attack or be reluctant to bring a case if it is merited. An attorney who is experienced in personal injury law can frequently win dog-bite cases if he is well-steeped in this important area of the law.

Before you give up and allow someone whose animal has injured you to walk away without consequence, call the personal injury dog bite lawyers at The Millar Law Firm. Allow us to do a free case evaluation. After we’ve reviewed the facts in your case, we will be able to give you a better idea of whether or not you might win in court. Make an educated decision about how to proceed. Call us today.

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