By Stephanie F. Brown and David Wolf, Attorney
Published by Child Injury Lawyer Network
Lawsuits and insurance claims filed on behalf of children bitten by a dog are controlled by Georgia Code Section 51-2-7. This statute recognizes that the dog’s owner may be held liable for injuries caused by their dog where the owner has carelessly managed the dog or has allowed the dog to go at liberty. In order to recover, however, there must be evidence of the dog’s “vicious propensity” to cause injury. The dog’s vicious propensity to cause injury can be established by showing that the dog was required to be at heel or on a leash by a city or county ordinance and that at the time of the injury, the dog was not at heel or was not on a leash.
If there is not a violation of a leash law, however, the injured child must prove that the dog’s owner had knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity. The Georgia Courts have generally described this as the “first bite rule,” but the rule does not literally require that the owner be aware that the dog bit someone before. Instead, the first bite rule requires that the dog owner have superior knowledge of his dog’s temperament. While the Georgia owner does not have to have knowledge of a previous bite by the dog, the owner must be aware of the dog’s propensity to cause the particular type of injury that was later suffered by the bitten child according to Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute. Merely showing that the dog had a tendency to growl at people or children is insufficient. Showing that the dog had jumped on and attacked people with its mouth on prior occasions, however, is sufficient to place an owner on notice that a similar attack could occur. Georgia Courts continue to recognize this evidentiary burden as seen most recently in Custer v. Coward, 667 S.E.2d 135 (Ga. App. 2008).
Children, as well as adults, often suffer permanent personal injuries and scarring from dog bite incidents. Due to the evidentiary requirements set forth by Georgia law, it is helpful to consult with a Georgia personal injury lawyer / attorney to determine the rights of the dog bite victim.