If you were recently injured by a dog in the state of Georgia and you plan to file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner, you should first make sure that you are aware of some potential defenses that the owner may choose to bring up in court.
Georgia’s Dog Bite Liability Statute
Georgia statute O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 outlines the state’s law on dog bite liability. This statute is based on the concept of strict liability. Strict liability holds a defendant liable for committing specific actions, regardless of what his intent or mental state was when he committed the action. This statute holds that a dog owner is not strictly liable for injuries his dog causes unless:
- The dog was in violation of a local ordination (for example, a leash law) at the time of the incident OR
- The plaintiff is able to prove that:
- The dog had a dangerous propensity AND
- The dog owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities (for example, the dog owner witnessed the dog growling at passersby before the dog attacked)
In states with dog bite statutes that are based on strict liability principles (such as Georgia), there are not many defenses available to the defendant (dog owner). However, there are two main potential defenses that a defendant may raise in a dog bite case, which are the defenses of provocation and trespassing.
- Provocation: The Georgia statute on dog bites possesses a comparative negligence element. This means that a dog owner will only be held strictly liable for all of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff if the evidence supports the fact that the plaintiff did not incite their own injuries. As such, if the dog owner can show that the plaintiff engaged in behavior (for example, petting the dog, teasing the dog, etc.) that contributed to the injuries they sustained, the plaintiff will only be able to recover from the dog owner to the extent that the court finds the dog owner was actually at fault in light of the plaintiff’s own actions. For example, if the court finds, based on the evidence presented, that the plaintiff was 40% at fault in contributing to their own injuries, they are only entitled to 60% of any damage award from the dog owner, as the dog owner is only 60% at fault.
Trespassing: Generally speaking, if the plaintiff was illegally on the dog owner’s property at the time of the incident, they will not likely be successful in a claim against the dog owner. This is true even if the dog owner knew (or had reason to know) of the dog’s dangerous or vicious propensities. However, it should be noted that if the dog owner specifically instructed the dog to attack the trespasser, the owner may still be held liable for any injuries sustained by the plaintiff because the dog owner cannot intentionally endanger others on their property, regardless of whether or not they were legally there.