A dog attack can result not only in serious injury or death, but also long-term emotional trauma. Unfortunately, compared to most other states, it is relatively difficult to win a dog bite lawsuit in Georgia, because of the way the law is written. Nevertheless, a skilled dog bite lawyer might be able to help you win a generous verdict or settlement.
The “One Free Bite” Rule
In Georgia, dogs are considered harmless until proven dangerous (under a “more likely than not” standard). To win a lawsuit against a dog owner, you will need to show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous. This is most easily proven by showing that the dog has bitten someone before, hence the reference to “one free bite”. You can also prove this by showing that the dog has behaved aggressively to people in the past. Aggressive behavior towards other dogs will probably not be enough to prove that the dog is dangerous.
The Negligence Per Se Rule
Under Georgia’s negligence per se rule, you can win a dog bite case by proving that the dog’s owner or handler violated a state law or municipal ordinance concerning the dog, and that this violation led to the attack. If a city has an ordinance requiring dogs to be leashed in public, for example, and if you were injured in an attack by a dog who was unleashed in public, you might be able to win your lawsuit.
The advantage of relying on a negligence per se claim is that you can sue a third party, such as a dog handler or trainer – the defendant doesn’t have to be the owner of the dog.
The Dangerous Dog Control Law
Under Georgia’s Dangerous Dog Control Law, if a dog inflicts serious injury on a person, the authorities are permitted to declare the dog a “dangerous dog”. Dangerous dogs must be registered, properly enclosed and insured against personal injury. Once a dog has been declared dangerous, its owner cannot deny liability under the “one free bite” rule if it attacks again. A victim can also sue under a negligence per se theory if the dog’s owner or handler violates any of the foregoing restrictive rules that apply to dangerous dogs.
Damages under Georgia dog bite law can be divided into three general classifications:
- Economic damages. Economic damages compensate you for quantifiable economic losses. These damages are not limited to medical bills – you can recover for lost work time while in the hospital, for example.
- Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages refer to emotional losses such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. If the dog attack was fatal, a close relative might sue the dog owner for wrongful death and claim damages to compensate for grief.
- Punitive damages: Georgia awards punitive damages only in cases of outrageous behavior by the defendant – deliberately sending the dog after you, for example, or allowing a dog with known aggressive tendencies to wander unleashed at a playground. Although Georgia caps punitive damages at $250,000, they will be added to your economic and non-economic damages.
If you think you or a loved one may need legal help, talk to a dog bite attorney in your area.