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Georgia Dog Bite Laws Changing to Keep Up with Negligent Ownership of Dogs

With warm Georgia weather comes a rash of dog bite cases. This happens every year and this year is no different.

Georgia’s dog bite statute which is found at O.C.G.A § 51-2-7 provides:

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. In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash 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. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated fowl including roosters with spurs. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated livestock.

There are two bases for attaching liability to the dog owner: (1) Scienter; or (2) Violation of code or ordinances.
•The scienter ground requires proof of three elements. Specifically, the victim must prove that the animal was dangerous or vicious, that the defendant had the requisite degree of knowledge that the dog was dangerous, and that the defendant either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go at liberty. This is often referred to as the one-bite rule because once a dog has attacked and bitten someone before, the owner is on legal notice of the dog’s dangerous propensity.

•The ordinance ground requires proof of two elements. The plaintiff must prove that the animal was not at heel or on a leash as required by a local ordinance, and that the defendant either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go at liberty. This does not require any knowledge of dangerousness or viciousness. To prove liability under the ordinance ground provided by OCGA 51-2-7, the victim must show that, in the words of the statute, “the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government.”

So, to prove liability under this statute, the claim can be based on either a violation of a leash law or the dog owner’s knowledge that the dog had the temperament or propensity to bite people. Practically speaking, we almost always move under violation of leash laws to prove legal liability in dog bite cases because most in-town jurisdictions in the Atlanta area of strict leash laws and dogs cannot usually be put in a position to bite and attack people if the leash laws are followed.

Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling dog bite cases, automobile accident cases, personal injury cases, dental malpractice and medical malpractice lawsuits 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 and would like quality legal representation, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.