Dog Bites in Georgia: What You Should Know

In 2020, mostly due to coronavirus restrictions, the number of dog bite claims fell slightly. However, the average settlement per claim hit an all-time high. Medical bill inflation, which has increased significantly since 2008, is partly responsible for this increase. Furthermore, doctors better understand the nature of dog bite physical and emotional injuries. More on that below.

Animal attack laws vary significantly in different jurisdictions. Georgia’s dog bite law is especially complex. Essentially, lawmakers have tried to balance the interests of pet owners, who usually want limited liability laws, and victims, who need protective laws. Typically, if you stay in the middle of the road, you get run over.

So, only a highly-experienced Marietta personal injury attorney should handle these claims. A less-experienced attorney might not be able to obtain maximum compensation for your serious injuries. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Animal Attack Injuries

Many dog bite injury matters have not changed much since the early 2000s. When dogs bite, their teeth usually inflict deep puncture wounds along with severe tearing lacerations. The deep puncture wounds usually cause severe internal injuries. The tearing lacerations usually require extensive, and costly, treatment at regional trauma centers.

One recent change is the anti-infection approach. Previously, at many hospital emergency rooms, almost all other cases took priority over dog bite cases. Now, doctors better appreciate the high risk of infection in these matters. Therefore, medical teams intervene more quickly and take more aggressive measures. These things cost more money.

The emotional effect of a dog bite injury has changed as well, or at least medical appreciation of these injuries has changed. A significant number of dog bite victims experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms, such as:

  • Hypervigilance (irrational fear of all dogs),
  • Anger,
  • Depression,
  • Nightmares, and
  • Flashbacks.

Dog bite PTSD is especially common among child victims, and most dog bite victims are children.

Liability Issues

Scienter (knowledge) claims are among the most common dog bite legal claims in Georgia. Owners are liable for the aforementioned damages if the owner knew, or should have known, the animal was potentially vicious. Evidence on this point usually includes certain pre-attack behaviors, such as:

  • Loud barking,
  • Vicious growling,
  • Baring of teeth, and
  • Aggressive lunging.

Some courts also allow evidence of prior attacks against people or animals on this point. Regardless of the amount of evidence available, the victim/plaintiff must establish knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Scienter is a preferred claim not just because it is relatively easy to prove, at least in most cases. On a practical level, even pet owner jurors are willing to award maximum compensation if they believe the owner carelessly allowed someone to get seriously hurt.

Additionally, Georgia has a limited strict liability law. Under Georgia Code Annotated section 51-2-7, if the injury is related to “careless management” or “allowing the animal to go at liberty,” owners could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Essentially, the strict liability statute resembles negligence per se, or a general legal principle related to violation of a statute. Strict liability dog bite claims often involve violations of leash laws, fence laws, or other animal restraint laws.

Finally, some courts allow victim/plaintiffs to use the ordinary negligence doctrine. Basically, ordinary negligence is a lack of care. A portion of the Restatement of Torts, a summary of various common laws, states that “one who possesses or harbors” a domestic animal is subject to liability” for harm if “he is negligent in preventing that harm.”

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