Snellville Dog Bite Lawyer
Experienced Dog Bite Attorney Serving Snellville and Surrounding Areas
Many families in Gwinnett County have a dog. While dogs are wonderful pets, dog owners have a responsibility to control their dogs. Section 10-71 of the Gwinnett County Ordinances prohibits dog owners from allowing their dogs to roam at large and requires dogs to be restrained on a leash or under the control of a person the dog will obey if the dog is not on the owner’s property. Unfortunately, some dog owners do not behave responsibly. Children and adult victims often suffer serious harms when they are bitten by an unrestrained dog. Our Snellville dog bite attorneys help victims rebuild their lives when a dog owner’s negligence leads to dog bite injuries.
When Are Georgia Dog Owners Responsible for Dog Bites?
The traditional test of negligence in Georgia asked whether the dog owner knew that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities and failed to take reasonable steps to protect others from being bitten in light of that knowledge.
That rule has been modified, however, by the Georgia legislature and by court decisions that interpret Georgia statutes. Section 51-2-7 of the Georgia Code provides that a person “who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind” may be liable if “careless management” or “allowing the animal to go at liberty” causes injury to another person. That statute creates “a duty of care with respect to the management and restraint of the animal for the protection of those who may come into contact with it.” Eshleman v. Key, 297 Ga. 364 (Ga. 2015).
Breaking that law into its essential parts makes it easier to understand. First, the law applies to “any animal.” While dog bites are the most common injuries that spark lawsuits, the law applies to injuries caused by any animal that someone owns or keeps if the animal is “vicious or dangerous.” For example, in Taft v. Taft, 209 Ga. App. 499 (1993) the Georgia Court of Appeals recognized that an owner might be liable under O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 for failing to restrain a bull if the bull was dangerous.
Second, the law imposes liability upon negligent animal owners, but it also imposes a duty of care upon any person or entity that “keeps” an animal. For example, a fraternity may be liable for “keeping” a dog that bites someone. Oertel v. Chi Psi Fraternity, 239 Ga. App. 147 (Ga. App. 1999).
Third, the law applies to owners and keepers of a “vicious or dangerous” animal. An animal might be regarded as dangerous even if it has never harmed anyone. We discuss the meaning of “vicious or dangerous” in more detail below.
Fourth, the law imposes a duty of care that is violated by “careless management” or by allowing a dangerous or vicious animal to “go at liberty.” “Careless management” implies a duty to exercise ordinary care in managing a dog, while liability for allowing an animal to “go at liberty” implies a duty “to exercise ordinary care to keep a vicious or dangerous animal restrained so as to prevent injury to others.” Eshleman. As we discuss below, failing to obey a leash law is one way in which a dog owner might become liable for a bite, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before. Oertel.
Fifth, the law creates liability when the animal causes an “injury.” The law is not restricted to bite injuries. For example, an owner might be liable if a large unleashed dog knocks down a small child and causes a broken arm or a head injury.
Finally, the statute applies when the animal “causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act.” Provocation is, therefore, a defense against liability. An attorney who is knowledgeable about the state and local dog bite laws can help you to understand your rights and how they apply to your specific case.
When Should Dog Owners Regard a Dog as Vicious or Dangerous?
The second important dog bite law in Georgia is called the Responsible Dog Ownership Law (RDOL). Section 4-9-21(a)(2) of the RDOL defines a “dangerous dog” as one that has bitten someone, causing a substantial puncture of the skin, or that has aggressively attacked someone in a way that would cause a reasonable belief that the dog posed an imminent threat, even if the dog did not bite. A dog is also “dangerous” if it killed a pet outside of the owner’s property.
Growling or barking is not an “aggressive attack.” O.C.G.A. § 4-9-21(a)(2). However, when a dog has nipped, attempted to bite, or even snapped at someone, the dog’s aggressive behavior places an owner on notice that the dog is dangerous. Steagald v. Eason, 334 Ga. App. 113 (2017).
Section 4-9-21(a)(6) of the RDOL defines a “vicious dog” as one that has inflicted serious injury on a person. A serious injury is one that requires multiple sutures or hospitalization, impairs the function of an organ, results in a lengthy impairment of health, or creates a substantial risk of death. O.C.G.A. § 4-9-21(a)(5).
The RDOL requires a dangerous dog to be kept on a leash when it is outside of the owner’s property. O.C.G.A. § 4-8-29(a). The owner of a vicious dog must keep the dog in a secure enclosure or fenced area while on the owner’s property. A vicious dog must be muzzled and leashed when it is outside the owner’s property. O.C.G.A. § 4-8-29(b).
Importantly, § 51-2-7 requires anyone who owns or keeps a dog to regard it as “vicious” if a local ordinance requires the dog to be “at heel or on a leash.” When such an ordinance exists (as it does in Gwinnett County), a victim who is bitten outside of the dog owner’s property can prove the owner’s liability with evidence that the dog “was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash.”
What Dog Bite Cases Does Tobin Injury Law Handle?
Our Snellville personal injury lawyers help victims who have suffered serious injuries from dog bites. Our goal is to help bite victims rebuild their lives when they have suffered from facial scarring, torn tendons, infections that lead to hospitalization, and other serious injuries.
Half of all dog bite victims are children, and more than half of children under 4 are bitten in the face. We are committed to helping traumatized children who have been seriously injured because negligent owners did not control their dogs.
Reach Out to a Snellville Dog Bite Attorney at Tobin Injury Law
Dog bite victims and their families may be able to obtain compensation for losses such as medical expenses, lost income, disfigurement, pain and suffering, and more. But these losses are difficult to recover without working with an experienced lawyer. Even if you are unsure whether your injuries warrant legal assistance, seeking medical attention right away and then contacting a lawyer for consultation is recommended. At Tobin Injury Law, our seasoned dog bite lawyers are committed to helping victims fully recover. To schedule a free consultation and learn more about your legal rights, call the experienced legal team at (678) 263-3733.