Plaintiffs' attorneys in Georgia who wish to review the trial court's denial of summary and partial summary judgment on a plaintiff's claim of negligence should contact Attorney Kenneth Phillips, who will make the pertinent documents in the Braeden Kelly Case available for free.
Here are some, but not all, of the dangerous dog laws of Georgia:
This article shall be known and may be cited as the "Dangerous Dog Control Law."
(a) As used in this article, the term:
(1) "Dangerous dog" means any dog that, according to the records of an appropriate authority:
(A) Inflicts a severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property at any time after March 31, 1989; or
(B) Aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans without provocation after the dog has been classified as a potentially dangerous dog and after the owner has been notified of such classification.
. . .
(6) "Potentially dangerous dog" means any dog that without provocation bites a human being on public or private property at any time after March 31, 1989.
(a) Upon receiving a report of a dangerous dog or potentially dangerous dog within a dog control officer's jurisdiction from a law enforcement agency, animal control agency, rabies control officer, or county board of health, the dog control officer shall make such investigations and inquiries with regard to such report as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this article. Any local government shall be authorized but not required to provide by ordinance or resolution for additional duties of a dog control officer in identifying dangerous dogs or potentially dangerous dogs and their owners to carry out the provisions of this article.
(b) When a dog control officer classifies a dog as a dangerous dog or reclassifies a potentially dangerous dog as a dangerous dog, the dog control officer shall notify the dog's owner in writing by certified mail to the owner's last known address of such classification or reclassification. Such notice shall be complete upon its mailing.
. . .
(b) When a dangerous dog or a potentially dangerous dog is classified as such, the dog control officer shall notify the dog's owner of such classification.
. . . 4-8-25.
(a) It is unlawful for an owner to have or possess within this state a dangerous dog or potentially dangerous dog without a certificate of registration issued in accordance with the provisions of this Code section.
. . . 4-8-30.
It is the intent of the General Assembly that the owner of a dangerous dog or potentially dangerous dog shall be solely liable for any injury to or death of a person caused by such dog.
A landlord or land owner in Georgia is required to keep his property safe for visitors to the extent established by two key statutes, one of which has been interpreted to make him liable for dog bite injuries.
OCGA 51‑3‑1 states: "Where an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe." This has been interpreted to impose liability for negligence in keeping just the common areas of the premises safe, the "common areas" being defined as those parts of the premises to which all tenants and others are allowed access. Maloof v. Blackmon, 105 Ga. App. 207 (4a) (124 S.E.2d 441) (1962). In Lidster v. Jones 176 Ga. App. 392 (1985), OCGA 51-3-1 was held to impose liability upon a landlord that knew a dog was dangerous, after it bit a child in a common area of the apartment building.
On the other hand, the landlord is not responsible for unsafe conditions in those parts of the property of which he has divested himself of control. His duties toward visitors are limited to proper construction and repair of the premises, pursuant to OCGA sec. 44‑7‑14, which states: "Having fully parted with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant; provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair."
Furthermore, he cannot be held liable unless he had knowledge that the attacking dog was indeed dangerous.
As stated above, the Georgia dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog, if the dog injures a person while it is without a leash, in violation of a local ordinance. Here are two ordinances that, if violated, shall result in strict liability on the part of the dog owner:
Cherokee County Code:
Sec. 10-55. Animal control generally. At large.
(a) It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal, or anyone having an animal in his possession and custody, to allow it to run at large unattended on or about the streets and highways of the unincorporated and incorporated limits of the county, or on the property of another person or of the person in possession of such property, except for dogs being used in hunting in accordance with state game and fish department laws, rules and regulations.
Sec. 10-55. Animal control generally. Restraint and control.
(f) Every animal shall be restrained and controlled so as to prevent it from molesting passersby, chasing vehicles, or attacking persons or other animals.
Sec. 10-68. Dogs to wear collar, identification tag and vaccination tag; exceptions.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any owner of a dog to allow such dog to run at large without a collar, which shall have attached a valid vaccination tag as required by the laws of the state and an identification tag showing the name and address of the owner of the dog.
Woodstock Municipal Code:
Sec. 14-41. Running at large prohibited; leash required.
Any person owning or having custody of a dog within the city shall be required to confine such dog on the premises of the owner, or on the premises of some responsible person authorized by the owner. Dogs shall not be permitted to run at large on any streets, alleys or any other place in the city other than the premises of the guardian or owner of the dog while in the presence of the guardian, owner or other competent person authorized by the owner, except on a leash not more than six feet long and in the care of a competent person.
(Code 1989, § 11-3-21)
Charter references: Specific power, § 1.13(34).
Sec. 14-42. Duty to keep animal under restraint while on property.
It shall be the duty of every owner of any animal, or anyone having any animal in his possession or custody, to ensure that it is enclosed by way of a fence or other enclosure or is restrained by a chain or leash or in some other physical manner so that it cannot wander off of the real property limits of the owner, possessor or custodian. It is the intent of this section that all animals be prevented from leaving, while unattended, the real property limits of their owners, possessors or custodians thereof. Failure to comply with this section shall be unlawful and shall be punishable as provided in section 14-43.
(Code 1989, § 11-3-22)
Code of Ordinances, City of Atlanta, Georgia, Sec. 18-61. Applicability to portion of city within DeKalb County.
(a) Generally. The following shall apply to that portion of the city within DeKalb County:(1) Duty of owner to keep dog under control. It shall be unlawful for the owner of any dog or for any person having a dog in such person's possession and control to permit the dog to be out of control and unattended off the premises of the owner in that part of the city within DeKalb County or upon the property of another person without permission of the owner or person in possession thereof. (2) Definition of dog under control. A dog is under control if the dog is controlled by a leash, is at heal or is beside a competent person and obedient to that person's commands or is within a vehicle being driven or parked on the streets or is within the property limits of the dog's owner.
Fulton County Code of Ordinances, Sec. 34-205. Running at large.
(a) Generally. Within the unincorporated area of Fulton County or within any municipality in Fulton County which has or may enter into an agreement with Fulton County for animal control services, the running at large of dogs, domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, dangerous, or potentially dangerous dogs is prohibited, with the exception of cats. Owners of wildlife or exotic animals must have the necessary state and/or federal permits on their person when transporting their animals.
(b) (1) Dogs. It shall be unlawful for the owner, custodian or harborer of any dog to allow or permit such dog to leave the premises of the owner or other person having custody of the dog unless such dog is securely under leash; said leash being not more than six-feet long, and under the control of a competent person. Dogs must be confined to the premises of the owner or other person having custody of the dog and shall be restrained by means of a fence or wall or other enclosure, or restrained individually by a leash or chain. Excluded are those dogs participating in or training for obedience trials, field trials, dog shows, tracking work, or law enforcement. Also, the requirements of this subsection shall not apply in any area zoned for agriculture where the owner or person having custody of the dog is at the time in question using the dog for hunting purposes, and has on his/her person a valid hunting license and proof of vaccination. (2) An electronic confinement system shall be considered an acceptable enclosure when the equipment is properly maintained and in continuous working order, and the animal to be contained within wears the appropriate electronic collar when within the system perimeters. (3) In cases where an animal has been deemed dangerous by the court, or has been trained to be a guard dog, an electronic animal confinement system may not be used as either the primary or secondary enclosure. (4) Individuals who contain an animal by means of an electronic animal confinement system and are found to be in violation of this section or have been deemed as restraining a dangerous animal shall thereafter restrain the animal by means of a fence, wall or other enclosure, or such animal shall be restrained individually by a leash or chain.
(c) Restraint of domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife and exotic animals. It shall be unlawful for the owner, custodian, or harborer of any domestic animal, livestock, wildlife, or exotic animal, to allow or permit such animal to leave the premises of the owner or other person having custody of such unless securely under leash, in a carrying case, or restrained by some other means and under the control of a competent person, with the exception of cats.
(d) Confinement of domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, and dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs. Domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, and dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs shall be securely confined to the premises of the owner or other person having custody of such by means set forth under the provisions of this article, or approved by the health department or its designee and/or as required by state or federal regulations, with the exception of cats.
Under OCGA 51-2-7, scienter or violating a local ordinance are not quite enough to impose liability on a defendant. The victim also must prove that the injury resulted from careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty. The use of the word "and" in the following sentence of the statute compels this requirement: "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."
Careless management might consist of keeping the dog tied to a tree with a chain that extends to the curb, allowing children to freely take the dog out to play without a leash, entrusting the dog to an incompetent caretaker like a 5-year-old, or anything else that would be negligent or irresponsible. Allowing the dog to go at liberty would include letting it out without a leash, leaving an outer door open so that the dog could run out if it chose, or having a policy that the children could take the dog out without a leash.
Except for violations of local leash laws, section 51-2-7 essentially codifies the "one bite" rule, with some narrow exceptions that favor the victim in certain circumstances. The "one bite" rule (also called the "first bite" rule) is the ancient, judge-made principle that an animal owner, including a dog owner, cannot be held liable for injuries caused by his animal unless the owner was aware that the animal had a dangerous propensity to cause such injuries. "Georgia has traditionally adhered to the "first bite" rule, which holds dog owners liable for their animal's behavior only if an owner knows that a dog has the 'propensity to do the particular act [biting] which caused injury to the complaining party.'" Clark v. Joiner, 242 Ga. App. 421. Therefore, to establish liability under this part of the Georgia statute, the victim must prove that the dog owner knew or should have known of his dog's propensity to do the particular act which caused the complained of injury. Hamilton v. Walker, 235 Ga. App. 635 (510 S.E.2d 120) (1998); Durham v. Mooney, 234 Ga. App. 772, 773 (507 S.E.2d 877) (1998).
Georgia courts have wrestled with the degree of knowledge that is required. Appellate decisions in dog attack cases establish that the standard is one of constructive knowledge, based on the owner's superior awareness of his dog's temperament. The victim must prove that (a) the dog previously acted viciously on one or more occasions (neither an actual "bite" nor a human "target" are required), and (b) the owner or keeper should have known that the dog might someday bite someone.
For example, in Supan v. Griffin, 238 Ga. App. 404 (1999), a case involving a bite on the owner's premises, it was held that the true test of liability is the owner's "superior knowledge of his dog's temperament." Supan's dog had previously attacked a dog belonging to one Keller, and threatened the man with "bared fangs, vicious growls and attack behavior." When Keller told Supan, the latter acknowledged that his dog was "a problem." There was no prior bite victim. Nevertheless, these facts were sufficient to establish a triable fact as to Supan's prior knowledge of his dog's vicious propensity.
Likewise, in Thurmond v. Saffo, 238 Ga. App. 687, 688 (1999), liability was based on a single prior act of the dog. That act consisted of barking and walking slowly toward a woman named Webb, with something alarming about his eyes and tail. There was no growling, and no snapping. Webb later told the defendants that the dog had barked at her, and that she thought he would attack her. On the basis of that single incident, and the single warning given to the defendants, the appellate court reversed a directed verdict for them.
Similarly, in Sanders v. Bowen, 196 Ga. App. 644, 646 (2) (396 SE2d 908) (1990), it was held that, to prove knowledge of viciousness, it was sufficient to demonstrate that the dog had "habits of aggressiveness and attack which common sense says would not be confined to inanimate objects" despite no previous biting of humans. In that case, the dog was in training to be a fighting dog. It had never bitten a person, but its jaws could hold onto a two-by-four board and pop open a basketball.
Therefore, a dog bite victim needs to prove simply that the owner or handler reasonably should have known that his dog had the tendency to bite, based on a single prior incident of viciousness, which did not have to be a prior bite.
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