Local Ordinance Punishes the Owner of a “Problem Dog”

In an orderly society, we understand that we each must take responsibility for ourselves and our belongings so that we don’t cause harm to others. Thus, we insure our car, in order to be able to pay for damages, if someone is injured in an accident because of us. We insure our house, so that if the mail carrier trips and falls on our poorly maintained sidewalk, we can pay the damages.

When it comes to our pets, when we acquire them, we accept the responsibility to keep them from posing threats to others. We take them to the veterinarian and pay for the shots so that they don’t come down with diseases that might harm humans. We are also responsible for keeping our animals from hurting others even if that means chaining them up. If you have the right to own a pet, you also have a responsibility to keep that pet from injuring others. It’s that simple. That’s just how it’s supposed to work, but it doesn’t always work like that.

A dog and his owner answered in court for alleged failures in those basic responsibilities. The dog in question was, by his owner’s own admission, a “problem dog”.  Here’s what a local ordinance had to say about it:

“It shall be a violation of this ordinance for any owner or custodian of any dog classified as a ‘problem dog’ pursuant to the applicable provisions of this ordinance…” A “problem dog” is defined as,  “…any dog which does not possess a current certificate of vaccination as provided for by law.”

The local law went on to state that to allow such a dog to run at large, within the urban area of Glynn County, Georgia, where the incident occurred, is a violation of the dog ordinance in that county. The term “to run at large” refers to an animal that is not under the immediate control of or beside a competent person to whom the dog is obedient. A dog is said to be under control when he is confined within the property limits of his owner or custodian.

This particular dog, a German Shepard mixed breed, broke loose from his chain and attacked a minor child who was playing with the dog-owner’s child, on the dog-owner’s property. The child’s parents sued the dog’s owners for damages.

The fact that the dog was not vaccinated immediately made him a “problem dog.” The question became whether or not he was “running at large” after breaking his chains while remaining on the dog-owner’s property.

The trial court granted the owner of the dog summary judgment because the court believed the dog was still “confined” on the owner’s property. This meant the dog owner was not guilty of violating the law and, therefore, not liable for injuries to the child.

The plaintiffs appealed, alleging that, the dog was not under anybody’s control so was, indeed, running at large. The appellate court agreed, ruling that the dog was not ‘confined within’ the owner’s property. The plaintiffs prevailed.

It’s easy to see how the turn of a single word can make the difference between winning and losing a case like this one in court. Often, in dog attack cases, the owners of even vicious animals win the day. It takes a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of personal injury law to use the words in the law to the injured party’s advantage.

If you have suffered a dog attack, don’t give up your case without allowing the personal injury professionals at The Millar Law Firm to evaluate it thoroughly. Call or email us today with the facts. We will advise you of how you should proceed. We are dog-bite specialists. If your case can be won, depend upon our experienced legal team to represent you in court. You’ll be glad you did.