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Supreme Court of Georgia Weighs In on Dog Bite Liability of Owners

There are many different jurisdictions in the metropolitan Atlanta area and many of these have different codes or statutes which impute liability to dog owners when there is a dog attack that results in personal injuries. One thing is for sure though, there is no longer the “one bite rule” in Georgia, or to be more specific, a dog does not have to have bitten someone before for the owner of that dog to be liable for damages caused by the attack. For instance, the rule of law in Cobb County, holds dog owners to an even higher standard.  Pursuant to Cobb County Code of Ordinance, § 10-11, “It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal to permit such animal to be out of his immediate control and restraint… .” 10-11 (2) (b) defines restraint when off the owner’s premises as “…all animals shall at a minimum be maintained on an appropriate chain, leash, or tie not exceeding six feet in length, and in the hands of a person who possesses the ability to restrain the animal.”

It follows that liability to the owner attaches where the dogs are leashed in Cobb County (and other municipalities in and around Atlanta that have similar leash laws) if the victim of the dog bite can prove:  (1) that the dog was vicious; or (2) that the dog is a dangerous animal; or (3) a violation of heel or leash laws. Cobb county defines vicious and dangerous differently but, for purposes of this analysis, either can be proven in order to prevail against the defendant dog owner.

In Steagald v. Eason, (300 Ga. 717, 2017) the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that liability could attach to the dog owner under O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, even if the attack took place in the dog owner’s home or fenced in yard. Under O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 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 conduct my be liable for damages to the injured person. In coming to its conclusion in the Steagald case, the Supreme Court of Georgia first noted that the rule [for liability] “does not literally require a first bite.” It then went on to discuss how, to show the requisite knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite, could be satisfied by a number of different incidences, not just from a previous bite. “If there is an incident or incidents which would put a prudent man on notice to anticipate the even which occurred” then the owner’s knowledge may be inferred. In doing so, the Supreme Court of Georgia made clear that, to the extent that the appellate court has ruled otherwise, they are overruled.

In other words, prior snapping and/or aggressive behavior is sufficient (as was the case in Steagald v. Eason) to impute liability to the dog’s owner after a dog attack.

Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dental malpractice and medical malpractice lawsuits for individuals and families who have been injured or died as a result of the negligence of others in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area, including Alpharetta, Austell, Brookhaven, Chamblee, College Park, 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 or if you would just like to consult about your potential case, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.

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