Stephen Hasner | Personal Injury | May 24, 2022
Dog bites send hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital every year, and they send a few dozen people to the morgue. A dog bite can even cause a pedestrian accident if the victim runs into the street to escape a dog.
Small children suffer disproportionately from dog bites because many of them are too young to understand when they are provoking a dog. The consequences of a dog bite on your property depend on who owns the dog and why the victim was on your property.
If the Dog Belongs to You: Dog Bite Liability
If the dog is yours, Georgia’s dog bite statute governs. Georgia applies a “modified one bite rule.” A dog owner can bear liability for a dog bite if:
- The dog owner knew the dog was vicious, even if the dog had never bitten anyone before. A history of growling, snarling, or charging at people might be enough to prove the dog was vicious.
- The dog owner failed to leash the dog and let it run free in public.
Georgia dog bite law stands between two extremes: strict liability states where the owner is automatically liable, and “one bite rule” states where the owner gets a pass if the dog has never bitten before.
Defenses to Liability
Two main defenses against the Georgia dog bite state apply:
- Provocation: If the victim provoked the dog, the owner probably bears no liability.
- Trespassing: Owners generally bear no liability to a trespasser, even without a “Beware of Dog” sign. Nevertheless, a property owner cannot “sic” their dog on a trespasser unless they reasonably believe that the trespasser intends to cause immediate bodily harm.
Other defenses might apply as well, depending on the facts of your case.
A residential dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance likely covers dog bites. Some policies, however, exclude bites by certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers.
If the Dog Doesn’t Belong to You: Premises Liability
Someone on your property might suffer a bite from a dog that doesn’t belong to you:
- Stray dogs might frequently traverse your land;
- You might own an apartment complex where guests own dogs and walk them in public areas; or
- You might be the owner of a kennel.
In all cases, you bear the possibility of premises liability as a property owner or operator. Your liability depends on the position of the bite victim, as described below.
An invitee is someone you invite to your property, either directly or indirectly, in the furtherance of business. Customers are invitees of business premises, for example. You can bear liability for injuries to an invitee if you knew or should have known of the danger.
Once you know or should know of the danger, it is up to you to warn of the danger or remedy it. The actual or likely presence of a vicious dog constitutes a danger for which you can bear liability.
Following are some defenses to liability:
- The danger that the dog represented was “open and obvious”;
- The dog bite victim had traversed the land before and knew of the danger; or
- The victim was at fault (by provoking the dog, for example).
A property owner’s liability to an invitee is almost the same regardless of whether the property owner owns the dog.
A licensee is simply someone who is your property with your permission. This might include:
- A neighbor who stops by to borrow your lawnmower;
- Someone you allow to hunt on your property;
- An organization that holds meetings on your property (if it does not pay rent); or
- A road construction crew broadening the road in front of your home.
A property owner bears liability to a licensee if they:
- Knows or should know of a condition that creates an unreasonable danger;
- Should expect that the licensee will not see or realize the danger; and
- Fails to remedy the condition or warn the licensee.
An example might be the occasional presence of an apparently friendly, unleashed dog who becomes vicious whenever a stranger tries to pet them.
Generally, a property owner or occupier is not liable for injuries to a trespasser. Under certain circumstances, a property owner might be liable to child trespassers.
Seek the Assistance of a Lawyer
Once you factor in pain and suffering compensation, the average dog bite claim can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars. Accordingly, a dog bite claim is definitely a good reason to search for an experienced dog bite lawyer.
Contact the Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyers at Hasner Law, P.C. For Help
We serve in Fulton County, Chatham County, and its surrounding areas: