It's the holidays, and your in-laws from out of state demand a homemade peach cobbler. But you're not crazy enough to go to Publix this week. You head to each of your neighbors' houses to borrow a cup of this and a teeny bit of that. Ms. Johnson's rat terrier didn't like the way you knocked, so he took a bite of your ankle, hurting you pretty bad. You limp home, and your brother-in-law thinks he's funny when he yells: "I said 'cobbler,' not 'hobbler.'" Now what?
Many of the laws relating to dog bites are available online. Check out Title 51, Chapter 2 of the Official Code of Georgia for the section on dog bites. However, this article puts it all together for you, clarifying the meaning.
Choosing a Theory
Atlanta's dog bite laws have several nuances. Your chances of winning a favorable judgment or settlement will depend on your theory of liability: strict liability or negligence. Strict liability can provide an injured party with a judgment without first finding another party at fault. A negligence theory requires the injured party to show that a dog's owner was not careful enough, and that their lack of care caused the harm. You may want to talk to an attorney before you rush off to court. It could increase your chances of receiving compensation.
Strict Liability in Some Cases
Atlanta's dog owners are strictly liable for their dogs' bites only in two kinds of cases. In the first type, the dog must first be shown to be a "vicious or dangerous animal." In the other type of case, an owner is strictly liable if the dog was legally required to be on a leash, but went unrestrained. If these scenarios don't fit your case, then you may have a more typical negligence and personal injury case not covered by the state's dog bite law. See FindLaw's resources for personal injury law in Atlanta for more information on how that would work.
Vicious Animal Theory
If a vicious or dangerous dog harms a person, the owner may be strictly liable.
Georgia's Code gives counties and cities the authority to regulate animal behavior and determine whether a dog is "dangerous" or "potentially dangerous." Atlanta's Code of Ordinances states that a dangerous dog is one that has either:
Caused severe injury to a person without first being provoked; or
Acted aggressively toward humans after previously being classified as "potentially dangerous."
In this type of case, you must also show that at the time of the attack, the dog was "at liberty" or "careless[ly] managed." Atlanta's local law has rules relating to how an owner must protect the public from his/her dog. Dogs must be properly controlled even on the owner's property. The dog must be confined by either by a "fence or wall or other enclosure, or restrained individually by a leash or chain." On the other hand, an owner is not liable for a dangerous dog's attack if the "victim" first provoked the animal.
Dangerous Dogs in Dekalb County
In Atlanta, police regularly receive reports of dangerous animal behavior. Under the Code of Dekalb County, the police can have a court summon a dog owner to the Dekalb County recorder's court for a hearing. The police will take action, typically, after a dog bites or attacks a person or animal -- and sometimes after reports of menacing behavior.
The hearing will determine how the dog will be classified -- whether it will be deemed a "dangerous animal," or a "potentially dangerous animal." If an owner disagrees with the court's classification, the owner may appeal the decision to the Superior Court. For more on Atlanta courts, see FindLaw's article on Atlanta Courthouses.
Dangerous Dogs in Fulton County
In Fulton County, animal control officers have the authority to classify a dog as "dangerous" or "potentially dangerous." The owner will know the classification because animal control must mail a notice of classification to the owner's known address. If the owner disagrees with animal control's findings, the owner has 15 days to request a hearing. The form and instructions for requesting a hearing will be attached to the classification notice.
Leash Law Theory
In Atlanta, the Municipal Code generally prohibits owners from allowing dogs to run "at large." Dogs out with their owners or caretakers must be restrained by a leash no greater than six feet long, "and under the control of a competent person." Owners, therefore, should not allow small children to walk the dog without assistance from an adult strong enough to intervene with the dog's behavior. If an owner violates the leash law, and his/her dog causes an injury to a person, the owner will likely be liable for it.
If you've been injured by a dog and would like to find out more about your legal options, a local attorney specializing in dog bites or personal injury law may be worth a call or visit. Many attorneys provide free initial consultations, too.
Contact a qualified attorney.