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TITLE: Dog Bites and the Law in Georgia

Just how friendly is man’s best friend? Unfortunately, some of us get a bad answer to that question, and learn it the hard way. An aggressive dog can have a powerful bite and can hurt you much faster than you might think. When a dog bites you seriously enough to cause an injury, the dog’s owner may or may not be held liable, depending on the circumstances. Georgia has complicated dog bite laws, but is still among the leaders nationally in dog bite claims, according to the Atlanta Business Journal. State Farm, the state’s biggest insurer, reported 114 dog-related injury claims for $4.2 million in Georgia in 2015, making the Peach State number eight for such claims. Nationally, dog bites and other dog-related injuries account for more than a third of all paid-out homeowners insurance liability claim dollars.

Many states, Georgia included, adhere to what is commonly (if not completely accurately) called the “one-free-bite rule.” Established back in the 19th century, the “one-free-bite rule” says that a dog owner can be held liable for an injury only if the owner knew the dog might bite somebody. For exotic animals – like tigers, bears, chimpanzees, and other animals that are not traditionally kept as domestic pets – an owner is held strictly liable if the animal injures somebody. For dogs, though, until a dog has shown a propensity to bite – usually by actually biting somebody the first time (hence “one free bite”) – and the owner is on notice that the dog is dangerous, the owner is not liable for an injury the dog causes.

O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 provides that somebody “who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous 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.” A “dangerous” or “vicious” animal is defined by law to mean one that has attacked a person (even without causing injury), that has bitten somebody and punctured the skin, that has killed another pet animal, or that has inflicted serious injury on a person. To have a claim against the owner, the person who was bitten must not have been provoking the dog by, for example, abusing it, threatening its owner, or trespassing on property the dog is legitimately protecting.

Dog bite injuries can be horrific, leaving victims with massive medical bills, scarring, disfigurement, and permanent injury on top of extensive pain and suffering. Most dogs may be sweet and friendly, but when a person knowingly keeps a vicious or dangerous animal and that animal causes you serious injury, the law allows you to hold that person accountable.

Ken Crosson is the owner and lead attorney of the Crosson Law Group, a personal injury and business litigation law firm in Marietta, Georgia, serving the entire Atlanta metropolitan area and surrounding counties. The Crosson Law Group team is ready to help you and your family recover when you have suffered a serious injury. Call (678) 909-0770 or contact us via email today to schedule a free case evaluation.