Dog bites can cause serious physical injuries and dog owners can be held liable for those injuries. Dog bite statutes differ widely from state to state. In Georgia, the law has established particular conditions and rules around owner liability when their dog bites or injures another person.
This page breaks down Georgia dog bit law and looks at settlement amounts and jury payouts in these cases. Our attorneys also provide appellate opinions that will help Georgia dog bite lawyers looking for an end run around Georgia’s one-bite rule that we discuss below.
Understanding the “One Bite Rule”
Dog owner liability in most states falls into one of two major categories: (1) strict liability, or (2) traditional negligence (also known as the “one bite rule”). Georgia is among those states that continue to follow the traditional “one bite” negligence concept when it comes to holding dog owners liable.
The “one bite” doctrine is at the heart dog owner liability law in Georgia. This rule, essentially based on negligence, states that a dog owner can only be held responsible if they were aware that their dog had previously demonstrated aggressive behavior or caused a bite incident in the past. Thus, the rule’s name, “One Bite,” suggests that the dog gets one free bite before the owner can be considered negligent and held accountable.
Georgia’s one bite rule for dog owner liability is set forth at O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7:
A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured.
The Complexity of the “One Bite Rule”
Despite its straightforward name, the “One Bite Rule” is quite complex. Georgia courts have clarified that a dog owner’s liability isn’t exclusively confined to scenarios where the dog had previously bitten someone. You can call it a modified one bite rule. Instead, any sign of prior aggressive conduct, even in the absence of a biting incident, could potentially be used to establish the owner’s liability in a dog bite case.
The Supreme Court of Georgia has explained that the state’s one bite rule for dog owner liability is based on the general assumption that “dogs, regardless of breed, are of a harmless species, and for that reason, . . . courts require actual proof of the dangerous nature of the particular dog and of his owner’s knowledge of the particular dog’s deviation from presumptive harmlessness.” Steagald v. Eason, 797 S.E.2d 838 (Ga. 2017)
The Principle of “Scienter” in Dog Bite Lawsuits
A crucial factor in Georgia’s dog bite law is the legal principle known as “scienter,” signifying knowledge or awareness. The concept stipulates that a dog owner can only be deemed liable if they had knowledge of their dog’s aggressive tendencies. This principle implies that if a dog with no history of aggressive behavior bites someone, the owner may not be held responsible under the law.
Establishing Owner Liability
To successfully hold a dog owner liable in Georgia, a victim must establish a few key points. These include proving that the dog had a dangerous or vicious nature, the owner was aware of this nature, and that the owner was careless in managing the animal or allowed it to roam freely. By satisfying these criteria, a victim has a chance to secure justice and compensation for the harm caused by a dog bite in Georgia.
How Long After a Dog Bite in Georgia Can You Sue?
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is 2-years from the date that the claim “accrues.” O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. If prospective plaintiffs in Georgia don’t file their injury lawsuit within the 2-year limitation period, they will be permanently barred from filing suit.
In a dog bite case, the cause of action always “accrues” on the date that the dog bite or attack occurs. So if the dog bite happens January 1, 2023, then the statute of limitations will expire January 1, 2025. The one major exception to this is if the victim of the dog bite is a minor at the time of the attack, in which case the 2-year statute of limitations does not begin to run until they turn 18.
Georgia Dog Bite Settlement Amounts
Dog bite injury cases in Georgia tend to have a fairly high settlement value. One of the primary reasons for this is that the dog owner’s liability in these cases is generally covered by homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. So if the dog’s owner owns a house, their homeowners’ insurance policy will step in to cover any damages or liabilities in a dog bite case. The homeowners’ insurance will likely provide coverage even when the dog bite incident occurs away from the house.
Most homeowners’ insurance policies have pretty high coverage limits, especially in comparison to the coverage limits for most auto insurance policies. The availability of insurance coverage with high limits is the primary driving force behind the high settlement value of dog bite injury cases in Georgia.
Other factors in calculating dog bite settlements in Georgia include:
- Having a Winning Case: We have been talking about Georgia’s one-bite rule and the paths around that rule in some cases. The most important thing to win a good Georgia dog bite settlement is to have a case you can win at trial.
- Medical Expenses: The extent of medical treatment required due to the dog bite is a crucial factor. This includes current medical bills as well as anticipated future medical expenses, such as surgeries, rehabilitation, therapy, and ongoing treatments.
- Severity of the Injuries: Compensation for the physical pain and emotional distress experienced by the victim is also a significant component. The amount of pain and suffering compensation a victim receives is correlated to the severity of the injuries.
- Lost Wages: If the dog bite caused the victim to miss work or resulted in a loss of earning capacity, the settlement may include compensation for lost wages and potential future loss of income.
- Jurisdiction: The county in which the case would be tried impacts settlement amounts in dog bite lawsuits. For example, the same case is likely to be worth much more in Fulton County than in Taylor County.
Of course, not every dog bite lawsuit can be settled. While settlements can be reached through negotiations in most cases, some cases may proceed to trial, where a jury determines the final verdict and any resulting compensation.
Georgia Dog Bite Settlements & Verdicts
Below are verdicts and reported settlements from prior Georgia dog bite injury cases.
$5,600,000 Verdict (Hall County): A woman was viciously attacked by a dog at her neighbor’s house,. She mistakenly brought some of her neighbors’ mail to their home, where she was invited inside. A Labrador/pit bull mix owned by the defendant’s son attacked her, causing severe injuries. The dog repeatedly bit her, causing extensive harm to her arms, legs, face, neck, hands, and other parts of her body. She had to undergo multiple surgeries and spent a total of 19 days in the hospital due to complications from the attack. Her medical bills surpassed $336,000. The plaintiff’s dog bite lawyers demanded $1.4 million to settle, which was rejected. After a five-day trial in Hall County Superior Court in May 2023, the jury awarded $5.6 million in damages to the woman and an additional amount of $20,159.99 to her husband for his role as her caregiver during the recovery process.
$229,500 Verdict (Forsyth County): the plaintiff suffered dog bite wounds and scarring to both arms and mental anguish when the defendants were tenants of a home she owned and had agreed to vacate the rental home due to complaints made by their neighbors about the aggressive behavior of their dog. According to the plaintiff, she notified the defendants in advance that she was coming to the property for an inspection and requested that they secure and confine the dog, and when she arrived the dog attacked and mauled her in the driveway.
$218,868 Verdict (DeKalb County): The plaintiff, an adult female, reportedly suffered a scalp hematoma and a dog bite injury resulting in torn flesh to her lower left leg, and underwent scar revision surgery, when she was in her front yard collecting her mail and was attacked and bitten by a dog owned by defendants. The plaintiff alleged the defendants were negligent in failing to keep the dog under restraint and allowing the dog to roam free unattended off the defendants’ property. The plaintiff also contended the defendants were aware their dog had a history of vicious and aggressive behavior, including one prior bite incident.
$125,000 Verdict (Fulton County): An adult female, employed as a postal worker, reportedly suffered dog bite injuries and scarring, when she was delivering a package at the home of the defendants and was attacked by an unrestrained dog. The plaintiff hired a dog bite attorney who filed suit contended the defendants were negligent in that they failed to restrain the dog, despite knowing that the dog had vicious and dangerous propensities and had bitten and injured other persons.
$10,000 Verdict (Forsyth County): 8-year-old female, reportedly suffered dog bite injuries, including puncture wounds on her back, a laceration on the top of her head, bruising and scratches, as well as permanent scarring, when she was knocked to the ground and attacked by a dog, owned by the defendants. The dog had been secured in the bedroom due to a prior incident of aggression.
Georgia Dog Bite Appellate Rulings
- Cornejo v. Allen (2023): The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a Cedartown (Polk County) trial judge’s summary judgment because of evidence evidence suggesting that the defendant had knowledge of the dog’s aggressive behavior. Specifically, there were allegations of prior instances where the dog scratched, bit, and charged at the plaintiff. The court found that a jury could reasonably infer the respondent’s knowledge based on previous incidents, despite the respondent arguing that the incidents were dissimilar.
- Espinoza v. Morel (2023): Again, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a dog bite summmary judgment ruling. In this Gwinnett County case, the defendants asked the plaintiff to check on their German Shepherd while they were out of town. The dog was tethered to a single-line tether in their partially fenced-in backyard, which violated a Gwinnett County local animal control ordinance. The dog lunged at and bit the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that the dog should be considered “vicious” based on the ordinance violation, which would relieve them of the burden to prove the dog’s prior tendency to bite or attack. The appellate court agreed with the victim’s dog bite lawyer’s logic that the dog was not restrained according to the requirements of the ordinance. Thus, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff did not need to prove the defendants’ knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity according to common law but rather their awareness of the dog’s noncompliant restraint.
- GoldOller Management Services, LLC v. Smith (2022): Unfortunately, this is a case that helps defense attorneys, not dog bite attorneys representing victims. The plaintiff lived in an apartment complex in Atlanta in North Druit Hills managed by the defendants. The plaintiff reported two encounters with an unidentified dog and its owner via email, describing instances where the dog barked and attempted to charge at him while the owner tried to control it. The informed the property manager, but no further action was taken to identify the owner or the dog. He found the dog again and tried to take a picture of him and fell. Somehow, he found a lawyer to bring this claim for him. The courf found that the plaintiff’s knowledge of the dog’s alleged vicious behavior was equal to or greater than that of the defendants, resulting in his claim being barred as a matter of law. So the take-home message from this cases is that the defendant has to have more knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensitives that the defendant (which, honestly, makes sense).
- S&S Towing and Recovery v. Charnota (2020). The central issue was whether the second sentence of OCGA § 51-2-7, which deems an animal running at large in violation of a local leash law as “vicious,” violates procedural due process. The incident occurred when a dog attacked and killed another dog in Paulding County while unrestrained, and subsequently attacked and injured the dog’s owner. The plaintiff filed a complaint asserting liability under OCGA § 51-2-7, which requires proof of the owner’s knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensity. The defendant argued that the statute violated due process by creating an irrebuttable presumption of the owner’s knowledge. The court disagreed, holding that the statute provided an additional means of proving viciousness and that the owner had an opportunity to rebut the presumption. So the court affirmed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Contact a Georgia Dog Bite Lawyer
If you have been injured by a dog, you may be entitled to financial compensation. You can talk to a Georgia dog bite lawyer today. We can help you. Our firm handles dog bite lawsuits and has a history of success and we work with lawyers throughout Georgia. Call 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.