Can a Landlord Be Held Liable for a Dog Bite in Georgia?

This Georgia legal guide is provided by The Millar Law Firm, Georgia dog bite lawyers who specialize in helping the injured victims of dog attack cases.

Key Points

  • It is difficult, but not impossible, to sue a Georgia landlord for a renter’s dog attack or bite.
  • Landlords may be protected by the “out of possession” rule and premises liability law, but there are some limited exceptions.
  • Many Georgia renter’s insurance policies cover dog bite claims.
  • If the tenant and landlord will not tell you if they are insured, insurance may be discovered through legal action filed by Georgia Dog Bite attorneys.

Georgia landlords are often not liable to third parties for damages due to the negligence of a tenant, due to a legal concept known as “out of possession.” Under O.C.G.A. 44-7-14 property leased to a tenant is considered to belong to the tenant during the lease. However, there are exceptions, such as when the area where the incident happened, or the cause of the incident were within the landlord’s control.

This means that while a tenant may be responsible for a dog attack, a landlord who is truly out of possession and unaware of the danger, may not be. A limited exception might occur if the landlord knew a tenant was keeping a vicious dog in a common-area and the landlord had some control over the facts surrounding the attack.

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How Georgia’s Courts View Landlord Liability in Bite and Attack Cases

Case Example – case dismissed, child bitten at an apartment complex: When her toddler was bitten in the face one Georgia mother brought suit against a tenant, the owners of the apartment complex where they lived, and the leasing agent for the complex. In this case, Griffiths v. Rowe Props., 271 Ga. App. 344 (2005), the tenant, property owner and management company all argued that they had no idea the dog was dangerous. The landlords also argued that the dog’s attack did not happen in one of the common areas over which they had control. According to court documents, the attack took place inside the apartment. The case was dismissed because there was no evidence that the owner or landlord knew the dog had been aggressive in the past.

This case, Griffiths v. Rowe Props., exemplifies the principle of liability or responsibility in the case of a dog bite, specifically in the context of rental properties in Georgia.

First, it reinforces the notion that a dog owner can held responsible for a dog bite when the dog is shown to have a history of aggression. In this case, the tenant (the dog’s owner) argued that they weren’t aware the dog was dangerous, and the court found no evidence to contradict that claim. But, if the dog had a history of aggression, the outcome may have been different.

Second, the case underscores the idea that landlords generally aren’t liable for dog bites that occur on their property unless two conditions are met: they knew that the dog was dangerous, and the attack happened under circmstances or in a common area under the landlord’s control. In this case, the landlords stated that the dog attack didn’t occur in a common area, and it was inside the tenant’s apartment. Plus, they claimed that they didn’t know the dog was dangerous. The court also found no evidence contradicting these claims.

Case Example – case dismissed, victim could not sue landlord for premises liability: In Webb v. Danforth, 234 Ga. App. 211 (1998) a Georgia father sued under the premises liability statute when his daughter was attacked by a dog on property that was owned by a landlord and rented to a tenant. The Court again dismissed the case, finding that the tenant was in possession and control of the premises at the time of the attack and that the landlord did not own, possess or control the dog.

Case Example – case NOT dismissed when there was evidence landlord knew the dog was vicious: In Lidster v. Jones, 176 Ga. App. 392 (1985) an apartment manager admitted that he knew the dog had attacked another tenant’s child a year earlier. The victim’s mother also testified that the manager told her that the dog was vicious and had attacked other people and had tried to bite the manager several times. The Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the case, finding that there some evidence the resident manager’s knew of the violent propensity of the dog. Further, the incident occurred in a common area of the apartment complex. A word of caution: the Lidster case is over 35 years old, and our firm is uncertain that the current Georgia Appellate Courts would not dismiss this case.

Common Queries Regarding Dog Bite Coverage in Renters Insurance

Does renter’s insurance cover Georgia dog bite claims?

The good news is, yes, some (but not all) renters insurance policies may cover a tenant whose dog attacks a human. The bad news is that few tenants carry renter’s insurance. Still, if you, your child or another loved one is attacked by a dog owned by a renter, it is worth trying to find out if the dog’s owner has renters insurance. This can be difficult as many renters do not want to tell the victim they are insured. If this happens to you, call us. We may be able to help.

Can a Landlord be responsible for a dog bite if they chose not to require their tenant to have renters insurance?

The short answer is no. While it is a good idea for a landlord to require that his or her tenants have a policy of renters insurance, you cannot get around Georgia’s laws making it difficult to sue the landlord simply because the landlord did not require insurance.

Is it a Georgia state law for renters or tenants to be required to carry rental insurance?

There is no Georgia state law that requires renters or tenants to carry renters insurance. However, many landlords and property management companies can and do require it as part of the lease agreement.

Landlords might require tenants to have renters insurance for several reasons. It can help protect the tenant’s personal property in case of events like fire, theft, or damage. It also often includes liability coverage, which can protect both the tenant and landlord if someone is injured in the rental property, such as in the case of a dog bite.

Is there any other type of insurance that can pay for a dog bite legal claim besides renters insurance?

It’s not common but it could be possible that the dog owner has Animal Liability Insurance. This is a special type of insurance that provides coverage specifically for dog-related incidents. It can be useful for owners of breeds that are often excluded from homeowners or renters insurance policies due to perceived aggressiveness.

In the absence of available insurance coverage for a tenant whose dog has caused an attack, are there any other avenues for obtaining compensation?

One option is the dog owners personal assets. If the dog owner has substantial personal assets, it may be possible to seek compensation directly from them. This would likely require legal action, and the specifics can depend on local laws and regulations.

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What if a Landlord Allows a Tenant to Keep a Restricted Breed?

Unfortunately, while this is a violation of the lease, in Georgia it does not mean the landlord is automatically liable when a tenant’s dog attacks a human. You will still have the burden of proving that the landlord or manager knew the dog was vicious and failed to control the common area of the apartment complex. As the above examples show, this can be very difficult.

Can Renters Insurance Pay for a Dog Bite Legal Claim in Georgia?

The dog owner’s renter’s insurance could potentially help pay for your medical bills and any costs related to legal issues. This is due to insurance known as liability coverage, which kicks in if the owner is found to be at fault for your injury.

But keep in mind, not all insurance plans are the same. Some policies won’t cover incidents with certain types of dogs, or they may charge more to insure against dog attacks.

If there is a denial of coverage under a landlord or tenant’s insurance policy, it may be important to examine the policy language to determine if the claimed exclusion is valid.

Don’t Give Up. Our Georgia Dog Bite Injury Lawyers May Be Able to Help!

There are many technicalities in Georgia dog attack and bite liability law. This does not mean that your case should not be investigated.

If you think you have a case involving an animal attack, call or email our firm. The Millar Law firm specializes in dog bite cases and we have often found renters insurance or liability in these cases after the dog’s owner or insurance company has tried to hide the truth.

Our Georgia dog attack attorneys will evaluate the facts and insurance issues around your dog attack case at no charge. Once we’ve given you our free evaluation, you will have a better idea whether or not you’re likely to be able to recover in court. Call us at 770-400-0000 (call 770 – “4 million”) or chat with us today.

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