The common law rule in Georgia does support the traditional theory of liability, i.e., the first bite rule, in determining an owner’s responsibility for a dog bite attack. This common law rule has been codified in Georgia at O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, which states: A person 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.
Despite this statute being known as the first bite rule, it is not necessary in Georgia to prove that the dog has bitten before in order to for the owner to be liable. Instead, the plaintiff must show that the dog has demonstrated a propensity to bite in the past that caused the injury in the present case. In other words, as long as there is an incident or incidents in the past that would put a prudent owner on notice to anticipate that the dog would bite or attack persons (as opposed to other animals, which would not be sufficient notice to hold the dog owner liable for the attack), the owner is liable for the damages caused by the dog.
Recent decisions have shown that the Georgia courts are replacing the one bite rule with legal theory that the owner of a dog must act reasonably to protect the public from his dog if the owner knows or has reason to know of the dogs vicious propensity to bite. Importantly, whether the owner knew or had reason to know of the prior acts is usually a question for the jury at trial rather than a question of law for the judge. This newer standard is in line with other jurisdiction and makes good legal sense.
“In addition to the above theories of liability, there exists a third basis for liability for the owner of a dog who attacks an innocent person without provocation. “In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at the heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county or consolidated government, and that said animal at the time of the occurrence not at the heel or an a leash.” O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, as amended July 1, 1985.
Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dog attacks, car accident cases and construction site 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 in and around Atlanta, Georgia and its surrounding areas, 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 in a car accident and would like quality legal representation, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.