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Your Georgia Dog Bite Attorneys

Dog Bite Attorneys For All Residents of Georgia

Dog attacks and bites are a preventable tragedy.  Owners can, and should, take steps to prevent their animals from harming other people.  When they don’t, it is important to know what to do and what your legal rights are.  Learn about Georgia law here, and whether you need a Georgia Dog Bite Lawyer for your dog attack case.

The State of Georgia has laws allowing dog bite and dog attack victims to recover money from negligent dog owners. This is true when an owner knows of a dog’s vicious nature but fails to properly control the dog. It can also be true when the owner carelessly allows a dog to escape from an owner’s property.

Georgia’s Dog Bite Laws, Settlement Information and Legal Resources:

Georgia Responsible Dog Ownership Law

In 2012 the State of Georgia enacted the “Responsible Dog Ownership Law,” codified at O.C.G.A. 4-8-1 through 4-8-33.  This law provides some protection to the public and dog-owners from injuries resulting from dog attacks.  Georgia’s law provides some minimal standards but also allows counties and cities from having their own dog restraint and dog-bite ordinances.

Georgia’s Dog Bite Laws Explained

Under Georgia law, there are at least two general ways to hold a dog owner liable for your injuries.  For instance, O.C.G.A. 51-2-7, Georgia’s Dog Bite Law provides a way for you to prove your case and recover damages if:

1.   A dog owner actually knew or the owner should have known that the dog was aggressive or dangerous.

This requires showing:

  • The dog was aggressive or had a tendency to cause the injury that resulted,
  • The owner knew or should have known the dog was vicious, and
  • The dog’s owner managed the dog carelessly or let it to wander free despite its known aggressive tendencies.

Our Law Firm’s lawyers will seek to establish these facts by looking at a variety of sources. For instance, animal control, police and hospital records may indicate the dog’s history of bites, aggressive behavior and attacks on other animals.

2.   The dog was required to be leashed or under the owner’s control, and the dog owner did not meet this requirement.

This requires showing:

  • There was a local ordinance requiring the dog to be on a leash, muzzled or otherwise controlled by its owner,
  • The dog was not leashed, muzzled or controlled as required by law, and
  • The dog owner carelessly managed the dog or allowed it to go free.

Legal Consequences for Georgia Dog Owners After a Dog Bite

Generally speaking, dog bite laws in Georgia are more friendly to dog owners than to dog bite victims, especially when compared to dog bite laws in other states throughout the country. In Georgia, the specific language from the statute states:

Georgia Law O.C.G.A. 51-2-7 says that:  “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.” 

Vicious or Aggressive Dog Rules

In other words, dog owners are protected in certain circumstances when their dogs bite another person. First, as the statute suggests, the dog must be considered “vicious” or “dangerous” in order for the owner to be held liable. How can an injury victim show that the dog was dangerous? There are several different ways, including proving:

  • The dog was required to be on a leash according to city ordinance.
  • The dog has previously bitten a person.

Careless Management Rules

But in addition to proving that the dog was vicious or dangerous, the statute also makes clear that an injury victim must be able to show that the dog owner “carelessly managed” a dog by letting it “go at liberty.” Finally, the injury victim must be able to prove that he or she had not provoked the dog to attack or bite. As you can see, the burden is placed on the victim to prove liability for a dog bite injury.

Proving a Georgia Dog Bite Case

In sum, the dog bite victim must be able to prove all of the following in order to be eligible for compensation in Georgia:

  • The dog is vicious or dangerous.
  • The owner was careless.
  • The injury victim did not provoke the dog.

Learn more about Georgia Dog Bite Laws in this Article from our blog.
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What is The Georgia “First Bite Rule”?

The first bite rule does not mean that the dog gets his first bite free, or that he must bite somebody before he is labeled ‘dangerous.’ Rather, it means that the animal has given a prudent keeper or owner reason to expect such behavior. The key is in the owner or keeper’s knowledge or belief of such propensities.  If the owner knows that the dog has bitten previously, or that his or her dog tends to threaten humans, there may be liability.  On the other hand, it is doubtful that a Court will find that Georgia’s prior aggression rule will have been satisfied if the dog had only growled or barked at people in the past.

Would you like to read more from our Blog Article about how the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled on Georgia’s dog bite rule?

Legal Definitions: Dangerous or Vicious Dogs

Dangerous Dog.  Georgia classifies a “Dangerous Dog” as dog that has caused a substantial puncture of a human with its teeth; or a dog that attacks aggressively so as to pose a an imminent threat of serious injury to a person.  Mere actions of growling or baring of teeth or barking are not enough to classify a dog dangerous.  A dog may also be classified as dangerous if it kills a pet while away from the dog owner’s property.  O.C.G.A. 4-8-21.

Vicious Dog.  Under the Act, a dog is classified as “Vicious” if it causes serious injury to a person either through biting or mauling the person, or causes an injury to a person who is trying to escape an attack – including falling down or even being hit by a car while running away.

Serious Injury.  Under the 2012 law, a ‘serious injury’ is one that creates a real or substantial chance or risk of death, or involves broken bones, lacerations needing stitches, or injuries requiring hospitalization or surgery, including plastic surgery.

Exceptions.  Military and/or police dogs are exempt.  Bites or attacks by dogs against trespassers or persons attempting to abuse a dog or commit a crime are exempt.  However, under Georgia law very young children may be immune to the trespass exception.

Classified Dog Registration Rule.  It is against the law for an owner to have a dog that has been classified as dangerous or potentially dangerous without a certificate of registration.  O.C.G.A. 4-8-25.

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Is Compensation Automatic if a Dog Bites Me?

To prove a dog bite or dog attack case in the state of Georgia, you will need to show that the dog’s owner or handler did something wrong. For example, you should be able to recover compensation if you can prove:

The dog was known to be dangerous.  An owner can also be liable for an attack by a dog known to the owner to be dangerous or that the owner should have known was dangerous.

  • The dog was off-leash or unsecured.  In addition, the owner’s violation of a local “leash law” or city/county animal control ordinance can lead to liability.
  • How Do I Receive or Recover Money In a Dog Bite Case?

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How Do I Receive or Recover Money in a Dog Bite Claim?

In Georgia Dog Bite Cases, homeowners or renters insurance is an important source of compensation for dog attack victims.  One of the first things that experienced dog bite lawyers do is search for and locate all available sources of insurance.  Most owners of homes have insurance, while some (but unfortunately, not many) renters have policies that cover dog bites or attacks.  Certain insurance policies may cover dog bites and other animal attacks.  Some personal or business excess or umbrella insurance policies cover injuries caused by dogs and other domestic animals as well.

If the bite or attack happened on the premises of a business, the company is likely to have a general liability insurance policy that may cover your damages.  

Additionally, since 2012, Georgia has required owners of “vicious” dogs to maintain a minimum of $50,000 of liability insurance. The law defines a “vicious dog” as a dog that in the past killed or seriously injured a person.

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What Expenses and Damages Should a Dog’s Owner Pay?

Certain Georgia damages are considered economic, meaning that they come with or have a dollar amount (such as medical bills or lost wages). In the Georgia Court System, non-economic damages, however, can vary significantly depending upon a jury’s perception of the incident that resulted in the dog bite injuries. Non-economic damages are not fixed amounts and include damages such as compensation for physical pain, trauma and emotional or mental suffering.

Types of expenses that are commonly awarded or recovered include:

  • Medical expenses and bills
  • Lost pay (wages) and earnings
  • Physical therapy
  • Reconstruction surgery
  • Physical pain and  mental suffering
  • Loss of the quality of or enjoyment of one’s life

How Do I Prove a Dog Bite Case in Georgia’s Court System?

Knowing how to gather evidence in a dog bite case and proving your eligibility for compensation is the key to success.

It is extremely important to promptly investigate to discover if a dog:

  • Has been vicious or shown aggressive tendencies .  A dog can be shown to have presented an unreasonable risk when there is a past history of bites, aggressive or threatening behavior, attacks on other animals or past aggression against you or others (even the dog’s own family members).
  • The dog’s owner was or should have been aware their dog might be dangerous.  If the owner knew the dog was aggressive, such as the dog has hurt or killed a person or animal or if there were other signs of aggression, the owner should have been tipped off about the risk.
  • The owner carelessly handled the dog.  For example, a dog owner may be negligent by allowing a dog off leash or to escape a yard  due to an inadequate or defective fence when there is a local ordinance or leash law.

Sometimes, the case is clear-cut, such as when the dog escaped its confines before attacking you or another person.  However, often the most difficult part of these cases is proving that the owner was actually aware of the canine’s problems.  Proof that an owner knew or should have known their dog was dangerous or vicious can be proven in a variety of ways, such as through public information, such as local police or animal control records or veterinarian records.  Neighbors attacked or harassed by a dangerous dog also make great evidence to prove knowledge of vicious propensity.

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Evidence You Need to Prove Your Georgia Dog Bite Claim or Lawsuit

Lawyers and investigators search for evidence that a dog has been a problem or menace in the past. Often, our attorneys and investigators will speak with neighbors, animal control, local officials and gather records in order to prove the legal elements necessary in Georgia to win your case.  In Georgia, winning a dog bite case can be difficult without evidence that meets these strict legal standards.

Discovering any violations of local dangerous dog and leash laws is critical.  An owner’s failure to keep a dog inside a secure fence, on a leash, muzzled or under the control of its owner can lead to liability.

If there is a legal violation, it is not always necessary to prove the dog’s owner knew the dog was dangerous in these cases. Instead, you may show the owner:

  • Violated leash and restraint laws.   Local leash laws, a court order and county ordinances can all impose certain obligations on dog owners to make sure their animals are under control.
  • Failed to control the dog .   A dog owners failure to secure his or her dog on a leash or keep it confined, is failing to handle or control the animal.   The dog owner can be liable for allowing the dog to go free or for not muzzling the dog.

When you can show that a legal obligation existed and the owner fell short, this will help prove your case.
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Proving a case where the dog had not bitten a person before

If a dog has not bitten a person before, you cannot usually rely on the “first bite” or “one free bite” rule.  One way to prove the case is to show that the dog was at-large in violation of Code section 51-2-7, which says that a dog’s “vicious propensity” can be presumed if the dog is allowed to roam freely or be at liberty through careless management, in violation of a local ordinance.  Careless management might be allowing a dog to escape from a yard that is not fenced or leaving a door open.

How to Investigate a Georgia Dog Attack Case

Knowing what evidence to look for to investigate your case is important, so no time is wasted or evidence lost.  Discovering why the attack occurred and proving liability and damages should include:

  • Witness statements – It is crucial to obtain statements from those who saw the attack and from animal control. This information can help to support your account of what happened. Witnesses can given sworn statements (affidavits or depositions) or testify in court.
  • Clothing – If you have saved shirts, pants and other clothing items that were torn, ripped or bloodied in the attack, this evidence can help to establish how the dog attacked you and the extent of your injuries.
  • Medical records – Emergency room personnel and other physicians will document your injuries and how they were treated. Records can show whether stitches, casts, shots, medication or surgical procedures were required. A treating physician can also give an out-of-court sworn statement or testify.
  • Photos – Photos of the attack scene can prove important facts such as where the attack occurred and whether the dog was chained or kept in an enclosed area. Pictures of your injuries can also indicate the viciousness of the attack and prove the severity of your injuries.
  • Video footage – In some cases, actual video of the attack may be available. For instance, if the attack occurred at an apartment complex or other public place, security camera footage may be obtained.

Each piece of evidence can serve as building block that will help you or your Georgia dog bite or attack attorney to construct an account of what actually happened in your case.
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Can I Win My Case By Proving That The Breed is Vicious?

Probably not.   In the eyes of Georgia law dogs are harmless until proven otherwise. This means that you won’t win your case just because the dog was of a breed that many people consider more aggressive.  This means you won’t win just because the dog was a pit bull, rottweiler, akita or other large dog.  It will be necessary to prove that the dog had vicious propensities in other ways.

Read more about Cases where Georgia’s Courts have Ruled that dog breeds are not presumed vicious:

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What if I Was Knocked Down or Fell Running Away From A Dog Attack?

Must a dog actually bite a person in order for his owner to be found negligent in a Georgia personal injury case? Under the law of Georgia, the answer is not necessarily. A dog that causes injury can create legal trouble for his owners by chasing, lunging, showing his teeth, or even snarling IF that animal causes another person to become injured AND the dog is improperly managed.

We have written several blog articles showing that you do have a case if a dog chases you or knocks you down:

What if a Dog Was Provoked – Is There a Defense?

If a dog was being attacked or teased, an owner may be able to use the defense that the dog was being provoked. As such, proof that a dog was being attacked or was provoked can be a successful defense in a dog bite lawsuit.

Provocation can come in the form of a dog being under obvious attack, or it could mean taunting or teasing an animal. In some cases, a dog may also have been provoked if, for example, a person is intruding on the dog’s property, such as in the case of trespassing or breaking and entering.

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How Does Georgia Law Hold a Dog Owner Responsible?

 In Georgia, you may be able to hold a dog owner liable if you can show that the owner was aware that the dog was dangerous; that is, 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 allowing it to be around other people.  People often refer to this as the “one free bite” rule, which is a bit misleading, because proving a prior actual bite is not always necessary.  The standard is whether the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had a tendency to cause the injury in question.

Another way of proving a dog bite case against the owner is to show that there were leash laws or local ordinances dealing with at-large animals, and that the dog owner violated these laws. If you are bitten by the dog while the dog is unleashed or running free, you may be able to take action against the dog’s owner by showing that the owner wrongfully or carelessly failed to obey requirements to secure the animal.

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What Damages Can I Recover After Being Bitten By a Dog?

In Georgia, a dog bite victim may be compensated for both financial losses and for pain and suffering. In some cases, a plaintiff may also 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 known as general (for pain and suffering), special (for economic loss) and punitive (to punish or deter) damages.

  • Special damages are for the 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 re-constructive 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 physical and mental pain and emotional suffering, mental and 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 Law Firm dog bite attorney will gather the evidence to show how badly you were harmed by your injuries and seek the full amount of special and general damages that your case supports.  Punitive damages, if available, can be negotiated into the settlement in some cases, or awarded by a Jury to punish or deter the at fault party.

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If I Was Bitten by a Dog That Was on a Leash, Do I Have A Case?

Leashed dogs do bite, so the answer is maybe.

In the case of Myers v. Ogden, a 2017 Georgia Court of Appeals case,an owner was walking a large dog in a park, on its leash.  The dog owner testified she was able to handle and control the dog by herself.  However, the dog suddenly lunged and bit a man walking past the owner and her dog.  The Court found that the critical question is whether the dog’s owner/walker had kept the dog under control at all times, as required by the City’s local leash law.

Learn more about cases involving leashed dogs on our blog.

Can You Sue a Landlord For a Georgia Dog Bite or Attack?

It can be difficult to sue a Georgia landlord when his or her tenant’s dog attacks or bites a person.  In a Georgia case, Griffiths v. Rowe Props., 271 Ga. App. 344 (2005), a toddler was bitten by a renter’s dog inside the owner’s apartment.  The child’s mother sued the dog owner (tenant) and the owners of the apartment complex (landlord) and the leasing agent.  The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that because there was no evidence that the landlord or leasing agent knew that the dog was dangerous and and because the attack happened inside the tenant’s apartment, and not in a common area under the landlord’s control, the landlord was not responsible  .On the other hand, if a landlord knows that a dog is dangerous and the bite happens in a common area, it is possible that the landlord could be liable for ordinary negligence in failing to keep the “premises and approaches safe.”  See, Lidster v. Jones, 176 Ga. App. 392 (1985)

It would also appear to be the case that a landlord who rents a house to a tenant would not be liable because under a leasehold, a landlord does not assume responsibility for the negligent actions of the tenant while occupying the property.

You can read more in our blog article:  Can you sue a landlord in Georgia for a dog attack?
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What if a Dog Owner Purposely Allows Their Dog to Bite?

In certain cases, an owner who allows or encourages his or her dog to bite someone else could be held liable for assault. There are numerous examples of cases throughout the country in which courts have held that dogs can be considered deadly weapons in assault and battery convictions. For instance, in one case just south of the Georgia border, Morris v. Florida, the court Ruled that a dog can indeed be a deadly weapon.

Dog bite victims in Georgia may be able to make similar arguments under the state laws regarding assault and battery. In Georgia, simple assault is defined as a situation in which a person “attempts to commit a violent injury to the person of another” or “commits an act which places another in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury.” Simple battery is defined as a situation in which a person “intentionally causes substantial physical harm or visible bodily harm to another.”
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Criminal Consequences and Penalties for Dog Owners

Various City and County Ordinances, usually relating to restraint of dogs, contain civil and criminal penalties for violation of leash laws and other local municipal codes.

Under Georgia’s assault and battery statutes, a person could potentially be criminally responsible for assault and/or battery if he or she purposely allows or encourages the dog to attack another person. Depending upon the dog owner’s intent, the severity of the harm, and the nature of the victim, these charges can range from misdemeanor offenses to felony offenses. Some of these convictions carry required imprisonment.

In addition, a dog owner can be criminally liable for certain dog bite injuries even if the owner did not allow or encourage the dog to bite another person. Under Georgia law, a dog owner with previous convictions for dangerous dog violations can be charged with a felony offense, which comes with mandatory imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

How Much do Georgia Dog Bite and Dog Attack Lawyers Charge?

If we are able to accept your case, we do not charge an up-front fee.   At The Millar Law Firm, our attorneys handle many Georgia dog bite cases and understand your concern about paying legal fees on top of the medical bills you are dealing with after a serious dog bite injury.   Any fee you pay us will be a percentage of the compensation we obtain for you through a negotiated settlement of your injury case or verdict from a Court or Jury.  You won’t pay anything if we don’t recover money for you.

We believe that representation on a contingency-fee basis is a win-win for our clients.  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 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. In most cases our fees are 33.33% of the amount recovered if no lawsuit is filed, and 40% after a lawsuit has been filed.
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FREE TELEPHONE OR IN-PERSON CONSULTATION

Our goal is to help our clients, not simply to “make money” from you.  We screen and evaluate all cases carefully.  If we honestly think that you will be better served without an attorney, we will let you know immediately.  Not all cases need an lawyer.  However, most of our clients end up much further ahead than had they tried to represent themselves.

If you would like to speak to one of our lawyers either to retain us for your case or just to ask a question, feel free to call anytime.  We return and respond to all calls and messages!

You can reach us at 770-400-0000 (770-“Four-Million”)
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