Dogs are a Beloved Part of Many American Homes

There are more than 78 million dogs living in American households as pets. These dogs often are considered by their owners to be a part of the family and are treated accordingly. For the most part they receive loving attention and respond with loyalty to their owners, providing welcome companionship. The vast majority never show any significant aggression to anyone.

That is not always the case, however. Every year 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs, and about 800,000 of those bites require medical treatment. In 2019, there were 59 deaths as a result of dog bites. In 2019, there were two deaths in Georgia from dog bites, while in 2020, there were three dog bite fatalities in Georgia. None were in the Marietta area, although one was in Gwinnett County.

Fatalities are Rare, but Dog Bites are Costly

While relatively few dog bites result in death – most of those that do involve two or more dogs, or else very young children – dog bites can be an expensive proposition. Consider this:

  • Insurance claims resulting from dog bites or other dog-related injuries led to $797 million in claims against homeowners’ insurance policies in 2019
  • Insurance claims related to dog bites were up in 2019 to 17,802, an increase from 17,297 in 2018
  • Costs per claim also rose in 2019 over 2018, up nearly 15% from $39,017 in 2018 to $44,760 in 2019. Increased medical costs, the average amount of claim settlements, and increases in judgments and jury all have increased

Georgia has been in or near the top 10 in dog bite claims for many years, ranking 10th in 2019. While all of the states ahead of Georgia on the list have larger populations, Georgia still had 497 insurance claims related to dog bites, with an average claim of $47, 968 and total claims in the state for the year of $23.8 million.

Georgia Law is Tough on Owners of Dogs That Bite 

Some states have what is called a “one-bite rule,” meaning that a dog gets what amounts to one free bite; the dog is not deemed likely to bite a person until it already has done so once, after which the owner of the dog is strictly liable for any subsequent bites. Georgia is not one of those states. Georgia law imposes strict liability on owners of dogs that bite a person if the dog is deemed to be “vicious” or “dangerous.” However, proving a dog to be vicious or dangerous requires only that the dog is required by local law to be on a leash or fenced, which almost all jurisdictions in Georgia require. If such a requirement is in place, the owner is liable if the dog is on the loose because of the negligence of the owner and if the person attacked by the dog did not provoke the dog into attacking.

All of that is out the window if a dog has already been found to be dangerous, which means any dog that has already bitten or attacked someone previously.

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