House Guest Bitten By Dog Prevails – Georgia’s “First Bite” or “One Free Bite” Rule Explained
Clients often ask us to determine whether or not they can win a civil case based upon injuries sustained when a vicious dog attacks. The answer to that question often comes down to one critical word in that question. That word is ‘vicious.’ It’s not difficult to prove that a dog viciously bit someone. What can be difficult is proving that the dog’s owner already knew that the dog was prone to bite or previously showed vicious propensity.
Georgia law takes the position that dogs are generally harmless creatures. For that reason, it is the sometimes very difficult job of the Plaintiffs to prove that the dog was known to be dangerous – that he had bitten before or otherwise shown his owner that he was likely to bite. Unless the plaintiffs can prove that the owner was aware of the dog’s dangerous temperament, there can be no liability for injury or damages recovered when the dog bites.
While attending a party at the home of the dog’s owners, plaintiff attempted to pet the small dog. When the dog growled, the plaintiff got down on her knees – at dog level – to pet the animal. The dog bit her on the lip. Plaintiff sued for damages.
According to the Defendant dog owners, the dog was a mild-mannered, friendly dog. Conflicting testimony by others indicated that the dog had indeed behaved aggressively toward others in the past. Additionally, there was testimony that the dog’s owners previously admitted to removing the dog to another room when guests came because he “…could bite somebody.”
At the outset of the trial, the defendants made a motion for summary judgment – asking the judge to dismiss the case – stating that there was no question for the jury to consider. There was no evidence that the dog had ever behaved in a dangerous or aggressive way so as to let the owners know he was, indeed, dangerous. Defendants also claimed that the plaintiff was aware of the dog’s warning growl but did not heed it. This, they said, meant that the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of being bitten.
The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of the dog’s owners. (This essentially means that the judge decided the case and did not give the case over to the jury for consideration.)
The Georgia court of appeals found that the trial court made an error in granting summary judgment on behalf of the dog’s owners. This court found that there was enough evidence that the owner did have concerns about the dog’s aggressive behaviors so that the consideration of a jury was necessary to decide the case fairly. The court also held that because Plaintiff did not fully understand that the dog might bite, she could not be said to have willingly or voluntarily put herself in the way of injury.
The Court of Appeals ruled that a jury should determine the ultimate outcome of this case.
Dog bite cases seem easy enough. The necessary evidence, some think, is right there in front of the judge and jury to see. A scar, visible puncture wounds, or even the sudden onset of panic at the sight of a dog, seems enough to convict an animal and its owners of negligence. Sadly this evidence won’t always do the trick.
Liability in a dog bite case can only be established IF there is proof that the dog’s owner knew that the animal was dangerous. The dog must have bitten previously, or otherwise put the owner on alert that the animal was inclined to bite people. Without this proof, one cannot recover damages in dog-bite litigation.
If you believe that you have been injured by a dangerous dog and the negligence of its owner, call the personal injury specialists at The Millar Law Firm. We will give you a free case evaluation so that you will know ahead of time whether or not you are likely to win or lose such a case before you invest a dime.
Whatever you do, don’t trust your case to somebody who does not devote 100 percent of his/her time to personal injury cases. Personal injury law is a very specialized and complicated kind of law that requires experience. We have that experience. Allow us to put our expertise to work for you.
Call The Millar Law Firm today for your free case evaluation. 770-4Million (770-400-0000)!