Every year, dogs bite an estimated 4.5 million Americans. Most of these victims are children. Because they have such small brains and bodies, these victims usually sustain permanent emotional and physical injuries. The lifelong costs associated with these injuries are extremely high. Fortunately, most homeowners insurance policies have high coverage limits, which means substantial compensation is usually available.
A Marietta personal injury attorney works to ensure that these victims get the compensation they need and deserve. Victims need this compensation to pay medical bills and other accident-related costs. They deserve this compensation because, in most cases, that’s the only way that a young dog bite victim can possibly live the rest of their life with some sense of normalcy.
Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute
The Peachtree State has an unusually complicated dog bite law. Owners are liable for attack injuries if:
- Vicious or Dangerous Animal: Immediate pre-bite behavior, like aggressive barking, establishes viciousness. So does a history of aggressive behavior, like previous attacks on people or maybe other animals. Additionally, some localities have ordinances that classify some breeds as dangerous or vicious.
- At Liberty: Usually, this phrase means the owner or caretaker didn’t properly restrain the animal. This lack of restraint could be a violation of a fence law or leash law. It could also be a common-sense violation. Big dogs should be on leashes or behind fences, especially when small, playful children are around.
- No Provocation: In this context, provocation is difficult to prove because “provoking” an animal is almost synonymous with “torturing” an animal. Moreover, victims cannot unintentionally provoke animals, just like they cannot unintentionally torture them.
Because this rule is so complex and has so many moving parts, most Marietta personal injury attorneys do not use it in court.
The available negligence approaches basically break down the dog bite statute and require less proof.
The common-law “one bite rule” applies in Georgia. Owners are liable for damages if they knew their animals were potentially vicious, as outlined above. The “one bite rule” does not require a bite or any other attack. Previous vicious behavior is sufficient.
A victim/plaintiff must only prove knowledge, or scienter, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. So, a little proof goes a long way.
Ordinary negligence and negligence per se may be available as well. Ordinary negligence is basically a lack of care, or allowing a dog to run at large. This claim is easier to prove if there’s evidence of viciousness, although such evidence is not required. Negligence per se is a violation of a leash law or other animal restraint law that substantially causes injury.
The provocation defense is also available in negligence cases, but it is not an absolute defense in most cases. Instead, if there is evidence that the victim provoked the dog, the jury must divide fault on a percentage basis, such as 70-30.
Georgia is a modified comparative fault state with a 50% bar. So, the victim is eligible for compensation if the dog owner or caretaker is at least 50% responsible for the incident.