All you wanted to do was pet the cute dog with the sweet face. You had no idea it would bite you. Now you're in the emergency room with a painful gash in your hand and mounting medical bills. Not to mention the possibility of temporarily being out of work with no pay and a permanent scar to remind you of the incident.
So who's responsible for your injury? You, or the dog owner?
Many people assume that any time a person is bitten by a dog then the owner of the dog is automatically liable for any injuries, but that's not always the case. In Georgia, the law imposes certain requirements to hold dog owners responsible for personal injuries caused by their dogs. In Georgia, the burden of showing the owner's liability is on the plaintiff, or the person who was injured.
In order to establish that an owner is responsible for any bites or harm caused by their dog, the person who was harmed must generally prove one of the following:
- Dangerous propensity: this generally requires that the injured person prove that the dog has previously shown some sort of aggressive behavior that would put a reasonable person on notice that the dog may again attack in a generally similar way. For example, in one case (Sawson v. Tackling) in 2016, the Court of Appeals said that mere barking is not sufficient to conclude that a dog might bite someone. But, in contrast, in another case (Green v. Wilson), the court concluded that a dog's prior lunging at someone was enough to put an owner on notice of the possibility of the dog attacking someone else. But note that violation of a leash law may sometimes allow an injured person to not have to show prior dangerous behavior by the dog;
- Premises liability: this, like other premises liability cases, generally requires that the injured person show that the land owner or occupier have some sort of superior knowledge of the specific hazard that injured her. Again, just as with the dangerous propensity theory discussed above, this requires that the landowner or occupier know of some sort of prior aggressive behavior by the dog that is somewhat similar to the behavior that harmed the person. The level of specificity is hard to quantify or qualify, but a prior attack and bite is probably sufficient to show the propensity to do that very same thing in the future;
- Voluntary Undertaking: this generally requires that the injured person show that a property owner or occupier undertook or promised to restrain and control an animal but did so negligently. For example, suppose that a repairman comes to your home, and you agree to restrain your dog to protect the repairman. Unfortunately, you get interested in watching the Oprah show and forget about the repairman. You accidentally let go of your great dane's leash, allowing him to chew on the repairman's foot for a while. This may be the negligent performance of a voluntary undertaking.
As this simple summary shows, dog bite cases can actually get quite complicated in a hurry. There are many factors to consider in deciding if a dog bite case is a good personal injury case, and every case is different and requires careful individual analysis. Like other injury cases, a thorough investigation and careful analysis can put you in the best possible position to prove your case.
If you've been injured by a dog, please call us for a free consultation to determine if you have a claim against the dog owner or other responsible party. Gautreaux Law can be reached by phone at 478-238-9758 or toll free at 888-876-6935. We may also be reached online 24 hours a day.