As recently reported by the AJC, the Supreme court of Georgia, has recently weighed in on the subject dog bite cases. What it was important for the court to address this issue, the court did nothing more than make clear what the law has always been, or at least should have been construed. Under Georgia law, a person who owns a vicious dog can be found liable if the animal gets free and attacks someone. But the law does not presume that dogs are vicious; in fact, they are considered to be “a harmless species.” For dog-bite victims to prevail, the plaintiff must show the dog owner knew that his dog had a propensity for violence. In the past, Georgia’s courts have cited the “first bite rule” — that the dog had previously bitten someone and the owner knew about it. But, what about if the dog had gotten away in the past and had viciously attacked other dogs but not people or had shown a vicious propensity but had not actually bitten other people before the attack in question. The Georgia Court of Appeals had previously dismissed the plaintiff’s suit, finding that the prior incidents of defendant’s dog snapping at family members of the Plaintiffs amounted to “merely menacing behavior,” particularly with no evidence the dog had previously attacked anyone. Since the litigants in this case are neighbors, the decision certainly has potential for a far-reaching impact on litigation that occurs quite often in Georgia, i.e., one neighbor being bitten by another neighbors dog or dogs.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned that ruling and said a jury should decide whether the defendants had reason to know that their family dog was vicious. According to the well-written opinion, “a rational finder of fact could infer reasonably, we think, that [defendant’s dog] snapping at [Plaintiff’s family] amounted to the dog attempting to bite ,” Justice Keith Blackwell wrote. “An attempt to bite in the absence of provocation most certainly may be proof of a propensity to bite without provocation.”