Pet Owner Liability in Dog Bite Cases

A jury awarded $72 million to a DeKalb County family nearly four years after the young girl was mauled by two pit bulls, leaving her scarred and permanently disfigured from the attack.

The young girl, who was 8 years old at the time of the incident, was playing basketball on her driveway when two pit bulls went into her yard and attacked her. They carried her into the street and tore at her arms and legs before a passerby called the police, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Doctors spent 18 hours trying to save her arms, using veins from her legs to save her right arm. However, the left arm was amputated below her elbow, and her right arm is permanently disfigured. She also has scars on her legs, according to the AJC.

The dog owner said her pets, who were locked in kennels, escaped from her property when she was not home. The owner was found guilty on six misdemeanor counts, including reckless conduct and owning a vicious dog, the AJC reports.

In Georgia, dog owners can be held responsible for the actions of their pets. When adopting or taking in a dog, they should be aware they can be liable for whatever the pet does, including attacking other people, even if it is on someone else’s property.

In Georgia, if a person is a victim of a dog attack, he or she must prove the dog owner is liable for his or her pet’s actions, according to Georgia Statutes Annotated § 51-2-7. For example, if a dog was not properly restrained, the owner could be considered negligent and could be held liable.

To prove the dog owner is responsible, the victim would have to prove three things:

  • The animal was considered dangerous or vicious
  • The owner had some degree of knowledge the animal was dangerous
  • The owner carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go at liberty

If the animal is not on a leash in a city or county that requires it, that also could prove liability. For example, in DeKalb County dog owners must keep dogs on their premises or under their control, such as on a leash, according to local law.

Georgia is one of several states that has a “one-bite” rule for dogs. This means, a person who owns a dog can assume it is not dangerous, until there is evidence to prove otherwise. Once an owner knows his or her animal has bitten or attacked another, they can be held liable for subsequent attacks.

When a person is the victim of a dog bite or attack, he or she could seek damages from the owner. The damages could include medical and other hospital bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and mental anguish.

For the DeKalb County family, collecting the damages that have been awarded may be an issue because the dog owner did not have insurance. In these types of cases, insurance typically is the prime collection source, although personal assets also can be tapped.

The initial jury award in the DeKalb County case was more than $72 million _ $36.7 million in compensatory damages and $36 million in punitive damages. However, the punitive damages were reduced to $250,000, according to the AJC.

If a person has been injured because of the negligence of a dog owner, he or she should not have to pay. Dog bites and attacks can lead to serious injury and personal hardship. The victim should not have to suffer financially. An Atlanta dog bite defense attorney can help secure the funding you need for proper medical treatment.

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ReShea Balams

ReShea Balams is an award winning attorney and the founder of The Balams Firm.  Prior to answering her true calling to represent families impacted by life-changes tragedies, ReShea gained invaluable experience and insight as an attorney for large insurance companies.  She is known for her record of exceptional results on behalf of clients, and is a zealous advocate for injury victims.

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