Most experienced injury lawyers agree that the owner of a chimpanzee shot and killed by police after it attacked a 55-year-old woman last week will likely be named in a lawsuit. The state could also be held liable in the incident because it should have known the animal was a risk to the public. The victim of the attack remains in critical condition at the Cleveland Clinic as doctors evaluate her injuries, according the the Hartford Courant.
In Georgia, a pet owner is held strictly liable for injuries caused by vicious wild animals belonging to her, because such animals are considered inherently dangerous. Candler v. Smith, 50 Ga.App. 667 (1935). A dog, as a matter of law, is not subject to the rules governing wild animals. Harper v. Robinson, 263 Ga. App. 727(1) (2003).
However, Georgia law provides for liability to pet owners who “knew or should have known of the [vicious] propensities.” OCGA Code Section 51-2-7. While the commonly quoted “one bite rule”, i.e., every dog is entitled to its first bite without the owner being liable to the bitten victim, illustrates one way in which an owner would be held liable, it is not the only way. For instance, even if a dog has never attacked or bitten someone before, the dog’s owner could be liable for damage caused by the dog if “the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city [or] county and the animal was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash.” Id. In fact, most metro Atlanta, Georgia Counties, including but not limited to Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, and Gwinnett have leash laws that require the dog owner to have control over their dog at all times. For instance, Gwinnett Counties’ leash law makes it clear that the dog must, at all times, be controlled by the owner to avoid the dog attacking someone. The requirements are even stricter if the dog has attacked an innocent bystander before. When the is an applicable animal control statute (a/k/a leash law), the “one bite rule” is superseded by the leash law and the dog’s owner, in most cases, is what lawyer’s refer to as negligent per se. In other words, the fact that the dog was able to attack someone in the neighborhood, proves that the leash law was violated and the owner is liable for all the damages caused by the dog’s attack.
It is important to note that dog attacks result in physical and emotional damages. If one has ever been attacked by a dog, you know just how scary the attack can be. Most people who suffer dog bite attacks, are victims of post traumatic stress disorder from the attack, and are fearful of dogs long after the attack, if not forever.
Dog bites can be very painful and, in some cases, they can inflict long-lasting emotional impacts on victims. Care should be taken by all responsible dog owners to ensure that their dogs are not left in a position to attack and hurt innocent victims.