Personal Injuries and Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute

WHAT IS GEORGIA’S DOG BITE LAW?

In Georgia, there is a statute regarding injuries caused by animals, including dogs. This is found in O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7. According to the 2024 version of this statute, a negligent owner of a violent dog that causes unprovoked harm can be held liable for damages. Specifically, the statute states:

A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangers animal of any kind and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured. In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at heel or on a leach by an ordinance of a city, county or consolidated government, and the said animal was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash.

Dogs can be loyal and loving members of the family. But with ownership comes responsibility, and the potential for liability from a dog bite or attack if you are not careful. According to an article written by Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski that was published in 2020, dog bites are a common cause of emergency room visits in the United States each year.

Dog bites, as you could imagine, can cause serious injuries and even death. When dangerous or vicious dogs cause harm, or when dog owners negligently permit dogs to attack others, dog bite victims may be entitled to compensation for the damages and injuries they suffer.

Whether a dog bite claim will be successful depends on a number of factors and are what we like to call “fact specific.” If you have suffered an injury as a result of a dog bite or dog attack, it is important to understand the law and to be aware of your rights. Of course, it is always best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.

Four elements dog bite victims must prove to win their claim in Georgia:

  1. Vicious propensity. A dog that has a history of aggressive behavior towards people, or has been involved in past incidences of biting, may be considered “vicious or dangerous” under the statute. This element is automatically met if a dog was required by law to be at heel or leashed and was instead running free. S&S Towing & Recovery, Ltd. v. Charnota, 309 Ga. 117 (2020). Most cities and counties have ordinances requiring dogs to be on a leash. For example, in Cobb County, Georgia, dogs must be on a leash not exceeding six feet in length when away from their home. In addition, you can prove vicious propensity if you can gather evidence of prior bites or attacks. This can be done by sending an open records request to your local animal control agency for any and all complaints or incident reports regarding animals at a specific address.
  2. Careless management. Letting a dog off-leash in public or otherwise allowing it to roam free around others could meet this element. If a dog is on its owner’s property, careless management could occur if an owner knows the dog is aggressive to guests yet fails to contain or control it. Careless management could also occur if the owner does not have control of the dog while on leash and knew, or should have known, the dog could lunge or attack. If you undertake to restrain a dog, and do so in a negligent manner, you can be liable for that dog attacking or biting someone else. Myers v. Ogden, 343 Ga. App. 771 (2017).
  3. Unprovoked attack. To meet this element, a dog bite victim must not have provoked the dog into attacking. Unlike other types of torts, the doctrine of comparative negligence will not apply in this circumstance. If a person provokes a dog into attacking by antagonizing it, a dog bite claim will be completely defeated. Teasing, kicking, yelling, throwing objects, and other antagonizing behavior toward a dog that results in an attack or bite will not be recoverable.
  4. Attack causes injuries. As with any personal injury claim, a dog bit victim must prove that any injuries sustained were caused by the dog bite or the attack. This can include an actual bite from the animal, or an attack where the bog chases someone off leash causing that person to fall and become injured. In the second scenario there would be no “bite” but the attack and behavior of letting a dog run off a leash led to the injuries.

The Statute of Limitations for Bringing Dog Bite Claims

Under Georgia law, you have two years from the date of the incident to bring a claim for a dog bite or attack. The two-year period begins the moment that the victim knows that they have been injured by a dog bite. In certain circumstances this two-year period can be “tolled” or delayed, for instance when a victim is unable to bring a lawsuit because of their injury or because the defendant prevented them from doing so. When bringing a claim, the injured party is almost always bringing the claim against the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. If the dog owner does not own a home, or live in a home where coverage applies, we would look to renters’ insurance to cover any potential claim.

I have handled many dog bite cases in my career, and everyone is different. As an example, a prior client was bitten on the leg by a dog while running on a sidewalk. Not only was the dog off leash and roaming the neighborhood, after an investigation, we discovered that the owner in question had many prior offenses with dogs escaping their property. This was enough to make an allegation for punitive damages. In another case, my client was bitten by a dog at a park while the dog was on a leash. However, the owner knew the dog would lung and bit and failed to properly control their dog which resulting in a serious bite to the face. Finally, in another example, a client was attacked by a god while playing in a neighbor’s yard when the adult supervising the children carelessly let the dog out of the house. The adult was aware the dog was aggressive and had been barking excessively prior to being let outside. As soon as the dog escaped from the house, they attacked our client’s child and drug her into the bushes. In each of these examples, we were able to seek justice on behalf of our clients and secure favorable settlements.

Contact Williams Elleby Howard & Easter Today for More Information

The dog bite personal injury attorneys at Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, are dedicated to vigorously representing personal injury victims throughout Georgia. If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, the injury attorneys at Williams Elleby Howard & Easter can help you understand your rights and get you the compensation you deserve. Call Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, to schedule a consultation today at (833) 534-2542.

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