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Dog Owner and County Liable to Victim in Pit Bull Attack

Sue Gorman was in her home when a neighbor’s pit bill entered through an open patio door and started attacking Ms. Gorman’s two Jack Russell terriers. When Ms. Gorman tried to pull the pit bull off her dogs, the pit bull attacked Ms. Gorman, who suffered multiple bites to her face and arms. Although it took four years for her case to come to trial, Ms. Gorman finally got her day in court–and was awarded $2.2M. As has been said many times, the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind fairly!

The jury assigned almost half of the legal blame to the County because animal control officials took no action against the owners of the dog, despite the pit bull being the source of more than a dozen complaints from neighbors.

Most local ordinances provide that an animal shall be properly restrained when in public and the violation of one of these “leash laws” is usually enough to establish negligence against the owners of a dog which attacks. This case was complicated by the fact that the County failed to act and issue proper citations when alerted of the prior animal code violations.

For instance, relevant portions of the City of Atlanta Leash and Pet laws are as follows:

Excerpts from the City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances

Sec. 110-70. Pets (a) No person shall walk any pet in any park except on a leash, unless the area of the park is explicitly designated as an off-leash dog area. (b) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a pet into a public park to clean up any matter excreted by the pet. (c) Leashed pets are not prohibited in public parks except in the following areas of any parks: (1) Amphitheater. (2) Swimming pools and pool areas. (3) Tennis courts. (4) Golf course. (5) Within 15 feet of all fences and structures. (6) Lakes. (7) Zoo. (d) Pets are prohibited in parks during permitted class A, class B, and class C outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Pets are permitted in parks during class D and class E outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Any prohibition on pets during any outdoor festival or special event, regardless of whether the outdoor festival is class A, B, C, D, or E, shall not apply to those animals that are part of a performance, exhibit, or other activity conducted as part of the special event or festival, or when those animals are confined to a specific area of the park designated for that purpose. (e) Subsections (c) and (d) of this section shall not apply to any guide dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a totally or partially blind person or a deaf person, or a service dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a physically disabled person, or a dog trained and licensed by and in the possession of the Atlanta Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, or a horse utilized by the city’s mounted police patrol. (f) Certain defined areas of select parks shall be designated as off-leash dog areas. These areas must be completely fenced with a double-gated entrance and exit system. For any area of a park designated as an off-leash dog area, the rules set forth below shall apply. All of the rules below shall be posted on a sign at each entrance to the off-leash area. In the event that the rules are not posted, users of the area shall still be held responsible for knowing and following the rules, and may be fined or otherwise penalized for failure to abide by such rules. These rules may be augmented by the commissioner or her/his designee should s/he determine that additional rules are needed. (1) All users of the off-leash area shall assume all risk and liability associated with such an area. (2) Owners are responsible for the action of their dogs. Each dog must be kept within sight of her/his owner and under voice control. (3) Dog owners have responsibility for watching their dog’s behavior. If a dog displays aggressive behavior or fights, the owner shall be responsible for immediately controlling or removing the dog from the off-leash area. (4) No more than three dogs per owner shall be allowed in the area at one time. (5) All dogs must wear a collar and ID tag. (6) All dogs must be properly licensed, healthy, and have current vaccinations. (7) No puppies under 16 weeks are allowed. (8) No dogs in heat are allowed. (9) No dogs are permitted to enter with pronged collars. (10) Any dog that barks continually must be removed or muzzled by her/his owner. (11) Owners must clean up after their dogs. (12) The off-leash areas have double gated entrances. Owners must close and latch both gates after entering or exiting the area. (13) No children under the age of 12 are allowed in the area without close adult supervision. (14) The only food of any kind allowed is bite-size dog treats. (15) Do not feed dogs without the owner’s permission. (16) Bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, jogging or strollers are not allowed. (17) Dogs are not permitted on benches. (18) The off-leash area may be closed in times of bad weather or for maintenance. (19) Serious problems resulting in injury must be reported immediately to the bureau of parks. (Code 1977, § 10-2015; Ord. No. 2003-112, § 7, 12-9-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, §§ 1, 2, 1-24-05) Cross references: Animals, ch. 18. State law references: Right to have guide dog in public place, O.C.G.A. § 30-4-1. Sec. 110-70.1. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Grant Park (a) For the safety of dogs and zoo animals, dogs shall only be permitted in certain areas of Grant Park, provided the pet is on a leash and controlled by a competent person. (b) It shall be unlawful for any person to permit such person’s dog within the following areas of Grant Park:
(1) Twenty-one acres of the zoo area and buildings (2) Cyclorama building and area (3) Swimming pool and pool area (4) Tennis court area (5) Athletic field areas
(c) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a dog into Grant Park to clean up any matter excreted by such pet. Sec. 110-70.2. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Piedmont Park An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a two and one-half acre parcel of specified parkland within Piedmont Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Inc., at no cost to the City of Atlanta. (Ord. No. 2002-25, § 1, 4-5-02; Ord. No. 2003-78, § 1, 6-24-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, § 3, 1-24-05) Sec. 110-70.4. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Frankie Allen Park (a) An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a half-acre parcel of specified parkland within the Frankie Allen Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the David Forehand Memorial Organization, at no cost to the City of Atlanta.?(Ord. No. 2005-54, § 1, 9-12-05)
Sec. 110-70. Pets (a) No person shall walk any pet in any park except on a leash, unless the area of the park is explicitly designated as an off-leash dog area. (b) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a pet into a public park to clean up any matter excreted by the pet. (c) Leashed pets are not prohibited in public parks except in the following areas of any parks: (1) Amphitheater. (2) Swimming pools and pool areas. (3) Tennis courts. (4) Golf course. (5) Within 15 feet of all fences and structures. (6) Lakes. (7) Zoo. (d) Pets are prohibited in parks during permitted class A, class B, and class C outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Pets are permitted in parks during class D and class E outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Any prohibition on pets during any outdoor festival or special event, regardless of whether the outdoor festival is class A, B, C, D, or E, shall not apply to those animals that are part of a performance, exhibit, or other activity conducted as part of the special event or festival, or when those animals are confined to a specific area of the park designated for that purpose. (e) Subsections (c) and (d) of this section shall not apply to any guide dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a totally or partially blind person or a deaf person, or a service dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a physically disabled person, or a dog trained and licensed by and in the possession of the Atlanta Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, or a horse utilized by the city’s mounted police patrol. (f) Certain defined areas of select parks shall be designated as off-leash dog areas. These areas must be completely fenced with a double-gated entrance and exit system. For any area of a park designated as an off-leash dog area, the rules set forth below shall apply. All of the rules below shall be posted on a sign at each entrance to the off-leash area. In the event that the rules are not posted, users of the area shall still be held responsible for knowing and following the rules, and may be fined or otherwise penalized for failure to abide by such rules. These rules may be augmented by the commissioner or her/his designee should s/he determine that additional rules are needed. (1) All users of the off-leash area shall assume all risk and liability associated with such an area. (2) Owners are responsible for the action of their dogs. Each dog must be kept within sight of her/his owner and under voice control. ?(3) Dog owners have responsibility for watching their dog’s behavior. If a dog displays aggressive behavior or fights, the owner shall be responsible for immediately controlling or removing the dog from the off-leash area. (4) No more than three dogs per owner shall be allowed in the area at one time. (5) All dogs must wear a collar and ID tag. (6) All dogs must be properly licensed, healthy, and have current vaccinations. (7) No puppies under 16 weeks are allowed. (8) No dogs in heat are allowed. (9) No dogs are permitted to enter with pronged collars. (10) Any dog that barks continually must be removed or muzzled by her/his owner. (11) Owners must clean up after their dogs. (12) The off-leash areas have double gated entrances. Owners must close and latch both gates after entering or exiting the area. (13) No children under the age of 12 are allowed in the area without close adult supervision. (14) The only food of any kind allowed is bite-size dog treats. (15) Do not feed dogs without the owner’s permission. (16) Bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, jogging or strollers are not allowed. (17) Dogs are not permitted on benches. (18) The off-leash area may be closed in times of bad weather or for maintenance. (19) Serious problems resulting in injury must be reported immediately to the bureau of parks. (Code 1977, § 10-2015; Ord. No. 2003-112, § 7, 12-9-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, §§ 1, 2, 1-24-05) Cross references: Animals, ch. 18. State law references: Right to have guide dog in public place, O.C.G.A. § 30-4-1. Sec. 110-70.1. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Grant Park (a) For the safety of dogs and zoo animals, dogs shall only be permitted in certain areas of Grant Park, provided the pet is on a leash and controlled by a competent person. (b) It shall be unlawful for any person to permit such person’s dog within the following areas of Grant Park:
(1) Twenty-one acres of the zoo area and buildings (2) Cyclorama building and area (3) Swimming pool and pool area (4) Tennis court area (5) Athletic field areas
(c) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a dog into Grant Park to clean up any matter excreted by such pet.Sec. 110-70.2. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Piedmont Park An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a two and one-half acre parcel of specified parkland within Piedmont Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Inc., at no cost to the City of Atlanta. (Ord. No. 2002-25, § 1, 4-5-02; Ord. No. 2003-78, § 1, 6-24-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, § 3, 1-24-05) Sec. 110-70.4. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Frankie Allen Park (a) An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a half-acre parcel of specified parkland within the Frankie Allen Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the David Forehand Memorial Organization, at no cost to the City of Atlanta.(Ord. No. 2005-54, § 1, 9-12-05)
Sec. 110-70. Pets (a) No person shall walk any pet in any park except on a leash, unless the area of the park is explicitly designated as an off-leash dog area. (b) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a pet into a public park to clean up any matter excreted by the pet. (c) Leashed pets are not prohibited in public parks except in the following areas of any parks: (1) Amphitheater. (2) Swimming pools and pool areas. (3) Tennis courts. (4) Golf course. (5) Within 15 feet of all fences and structures. (6) Lakes. (7) Zoo. (d) Pets are prohibited in parks during permitted class A, class B, and class C outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Pets are permitted in parks during class D and class E outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Any prohibition on pets during any outdoor festival or special event, regardless of whether the outdoor festival is class A, B, C, D, or E, shall not apply to those animals that are part of a performance, exhibit, or other activity conducted as part of the special event or festival, or when those animals are confined to a specific area of the park designated for that purpose. (e) Subsections (c) and (d) of this section shall not apply to any guide dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a totally or partially blind person or a deaf person, or a service dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a physically disabled person, or a dog trained and licensed by and in the possession of the Atlanta Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, or a horse utilized by the city’s mounted police patrol. (f) Certain defined areas of select parks shall be designated as off-leash dog areas. These areas must be completely fenced with a double-gated entrance and exit system. For any area of a park designated as an off-leash dog area, the rules set forth below shall apply. All of the rules below shall be posted on a sign at each entrance to the off-leash area. In the event that the rules are not posted, users of the area shall still be held responsible for knowing and following the rules, and may be fined or otherwise penalized for failure to abide by such rules. These rules may be augmented by the commissioner or her/his designee should s/he determine that additional rules are needed. (1) All users of the off-leash area shall assume all risk and liability associated with such an area. (2) Owners are responsible for the action of their dogs. Each dog must be kept within sight of her/his owner and under voice control. (3) Dog owners have responsibility for watching their dog’s behavior. If a dog displays aggressive behavior or fights, the owner shall be responsible for immediately controlling or removing the dog from the off-leash area. (4) No more than three dogs per owner shall be allowed in the area at one time. (5) All dogs must wear a collar and ID tag. (6) All dogs must be properly licensed, healthy, and have current vaccinations. (7) No puppies under 16 weeks are allowed. (8) No dogs in heat are allowed. (9) No dogs are permitted to enter with pronged collars. (10) Any dog that barks continually must be removed or muzzled by her/his owner. (11) Owners must clean up after their dogs. (12) The off-leash areas have double gated entrances. Owners must close and latch both gates after entering or exiting the area. (13) No children under the age of 12 are allowed in the area without close adult supervision. (14) The only food of any kind allowed is bite-size dog treats. (15) Do not feed dogs without the owner’s permission. (16) Bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, jogging or strollers are not allowed. (17) Dogs are not permitted on benches. (18) The off-leash area may be closed in times of bad weather or for maintenance. (19) Serious problems resulting in injury must be reported immediately to the bureau of parks. (Code 1977, § 10-2015; Ord. No. 2003-112, § 7, 12-9-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, §§ 1, 2, 1-24-05) Cross references: Animals, ch. 18. State law references: Right to have guide dog in public place, O.C.G.A. § 30-4-1. Sec. 110-70.1. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Grant Park (a) For the safety of dogs and zoo animals, dogs shall only be permitted in certain areas of Grant Park, provided the pet is on a leash and controlled by a competent person. (b) It shall be unlawful for any person to permit such person’s dog within the following areas of Grant Park:
(1) Twenty-one acres of the zoo area and buildings (2) Cyclorama building and area (3) Swimming pool and pool area (4) Tennis court area (5) Athletic field areas
(c) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a dog into Grant Park to clean up any matter excreted by such pet.Sec. 110-70.2. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Piedmont Park An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a two and one-half acre parcel of specified parkland within Piedmont Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Inc., at no cost to the City of Atlanta. (Ord. No. 2002-25, § 1, 4-5-02; Ord. No. 2003-78, § 1, 6-24-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, § 3, 1-24-05) Sec. 110-70.4. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Frankie Allen Park (a) An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a half-acre parcel of specified parkland within the Frankie Allen Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the David Forehand Memorial Organization, at no cost to the City of Atlanta.?(Ord. No. 2005-54, § 1, 9-12-05)

Sec. 110-70. Pets

(a) No person shall walk any pet in any park except on a leash, unless the area of the park is explicitly designated as an off-leash dog area.
(b) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a pet into a public park to clean up any matter excreted by the pet.
(c) Leashed pets are not prohibited in public parks except in the following areas of any parks:
(1) Amphitheater.
(2) Swimming pools and pool areas.
(3) Tennis courts.
(4) Golf course.
(5) Within 15 feet of all fences and structures.
(6) Lakes.
(7) Zoo.
(d) Pets are prohibited in parks during permitted class A, class B, and class C outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Pets are permitted in parks during class D and class E outdoor festivals, as defined in section 138-187 and 138-205. Any prohibition on pets during any outdoor festival or special event, regardless of whether the outdoor festival is class A, B, C, D, or E, shall not apply to those animals that are part of a performance, exhibit, or other activity conducted as part of the special event or festival, or when those animals are confined to a specific area of the park designated for that purpose.
(e) Subsections (c) and (d) of this section shall not apply to any guide dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a totally or partially blind person or a deaf person, or a service dog especially trained for the purpose of accompanying a physically disabled person, or a dog trained and licensed by and in the possession of the Atlanta Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, or a horse utilized by the city’s mounted police patrol.
(f) Certain defined areas of select parks shall be designated as off-leash dog areas. These areas must be completely fenced with a double-gated entrance and exit system. For any area of a park designated as an off-leash dog area, the rules set forth below shall apply. All of the rules below shall be posted on a sign at each entrance to the off-leash area. In the event that the rules are not posted, users of the area shall still be held responsible for knowing and following the rules, and may be fined or otherwise penalized for failure to abide by such rules. These rules may be augmented by the commissioner or her/his designee should s/he determine that additional rules are needed.
(1) All users of the off-leash area shall assume all risk and liability associated with such an area.
(2) Owners are responsible for the action of their dogs. Each dog must be kept within sight of her/his owner and under voice control.
(3) Dog owners have responsibility for watching their dog’s behavior. If a dog displays aggressive behavior or fights, the owner shall be responsible for immediately controlling or removing the dog from the off-leash area.
(4) No more than three dogs per owner shall be allowed in the area at one time.
(5) All dogs must wear a collar and ID tag.
(6) All dogs must be properly licensed, healthy, and have current vaccinations.
(7) No puppies under 16 weeks are allowed.
(8) No dogs in heat are allowed.
(9) No dogs are permitted to enter with pronged collars.
(10) Any dog that barks continually must be removed or muzzled by her/his owner.
(11) Owners must clean up after their dogs.
(12) The off-leash areas have double gated entrances. Owners must close and latch both gates after entering or exiting the area.
(13) No children under the age of 12 are allowed in the area without close adult supervision.
(14) The only food of any kind allowed is bite-size dog treats.
(15) Do not feed dogs without the owner’s permission.
(16) Bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, jogging or strollers are not allowed.
(17) Dogs are not permitted on benches.
(18) The off-leash area may be closed in times of bad weather or for maintenance.
(19) Serious problems resulting in injury must be reported immediately to the bureau of parks.
(Code 1977, § 10-2015; Ord. No. 2003-112, § 7, 12-9-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, §§ 1, 2, 1-24-05)

Cross references: Animals, ch. 18.

State law references: Right to have guide dog in public place, O.C.G.A. § 30-4-1.

Sec. 110-70.1. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Grant Park

(a) For the safety of dogs and zoo animals, dogs shall only be permitted in certain areas of Grant Park, provided the pet is on a leash and controlled by a competent person.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to permit such person’s dog within the following areas of Grant Park:

(1) Twenty-one acres of the zoo area and buildings
(2) Cyclorama building and area
(3) Swimming pool and pool area
(4) Tennis court area
(5) Athletic field areas

(c) It shall be the responsibility of any person bringing a dog into Grant Park to clean up any matter excreted by such pet.

Sec. 110-70.2. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Piedmont Park 

An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a two and one-half acre parcel of specified parkland within Piedmont Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Inc., at no cost to the City of Atlanta.
(Ord. No. 2002-25, § 1, 4-5-02; Ord. No. 2003-78, § 1, 6-24-03; Ord. No. 2005-04, § 3, 1-24-05)

Sec. 110-70.4. Dogs permitted in certain areas of Frankie Allen Park

(a) An off-leash pet area for dogs shall be established on a half-acre parcel of specified parkland within the Frankie Allen Park. Said area shall be operated, maintained and supervised with appropriate equipment, supplies, signage, and fencing by the David Forehand Memorial Organization, at no cost to the City of Atlanta.
(Ord. No. 2005-54, § 1, 9-12-05)

Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dental malpractice, bus accidents, car accident cases and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties and nearby cities including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured from a dog bite attack and would like discuss your case, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.