Understanding Georgia Law on Dog Bites

If you or someone you know has ever been bitten by a dog, you know that it can be a scary and traumatic experience. It is understandable and foreseeable that a person bitten or attacked by a dog would attempt to sue the dog owner for their injuries. It is crucial to understand the specific laws regarding dog bites in the state where the accident occurred, as dog owners can escape liability in some states based on the language of the statute(s). The following article will discuss the laws regarding dog bites in the state of Georgia.

The “One-Bite” Rule

One of the foundational principles of strict liability in common law is known as the “one-bite” rule. This principle asserts that a dog owner will not be held strictly liable for any injuries their dog has caused unless there is evidence to show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had the propensity to bite or attack. For example, if a dog has bitten or attempted to bite someone in the past, that is sufficient to show that the owner should have been aware of the dog’s dangerous propensity and should have taken appropriate actions to control the dog’s behavior. However, most states have either rejected this principle or have modified it in their statutes.

Georgia’s Law on Dog Bites

Georgia does not follow the “one-bite” rule per se. Instead, the Georgia statute on dog bites blends elements of both the common law “one-bite” rule and strict liability principles. As such, Georgia does not hold a dog owner strictly liable for injuries their 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)

It is also important to note that this statute has a comparative negligence element; 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 his own injuries. This means 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 he 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 his own injuries, he is only entitled to 60% of any award in damages from the dog owner, as the dog owner is only 60% at fault.  

Lastly, it is vital to research the leash laws and other related ordinances of the specific county where the incident occurred, as ordinances vary from county to county, meaning that what constitutes a strict liability offense in one country may not be the same offense in another county.

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