Many people consider their dogs to be members of their family. Most never have to worry about their pets attacking someone. But a 4-year-old boy recently was attacked by a relative’s pit bull in Schley County, leaving him with 300 stitches. And another pit bull was euthanized and its owner fined after it attacked two little girls playing on a trampoline in Walton County.
Sadly, these types of incidents happen all too frequently. Each year, 4.5 million Americans are treated for dog bite injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About half of those treated are child injury victims. In 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery because of dog bites.
Both of the recent Georgia cases involved pit bulls, but dogs of any breed have the potential to bite. Owners must be responsible for their dogs, and people who interact with dogs must be respectful and cautious around them.
A dog bite can cause permanent injuries, disfigurement, and even death. If you are attacked by a dog, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit for compensation. But your own behavior before the attack could be a factor in the case.
Georgia Dog Bite Laws
Georgia has revised its dog bite statutes in recent years due to an increase in dog attacks. The state identifies two categories of dogs that bite:
- Dangerous dogs have one reported incident of causing a substantial puncture of a person’s skin by teeth without causing serious injury, excluding nipping, scratching or minor abrasions. Dogs are also categorized as dangerous if they aggressively attack in a manner that causes one to reasonably believe the dog poses an imminent threat of serious injury. Finally, a dog may be classified as dangerous if, while off the owner’s property, the dog kills another pet animal, so long as the dog is not working or training as a hunting, herding, or predator control dog.
- Vicious dogs have seriously injured someone. A dangerous dog can be reclassified as vicious. A dog that has been previously classified as vicious is euthanized if it causes another serious injury. The law requires owners to securely confine vicious dogs, have an identifying microchip implanted, and to maintain $50,000 worth of insurance.
Generally speaking, there are two ways a dog owner can be held responsible for injuries caused by the dog:
First, if it can be shown that the dog was aggressive and that the owner knew or should have known that the animal had the potential to bite then the owner can be held responsible. This can be established through a history of complaints to animal control or through testimony from neighbors or other people who have prior experience with the particular animal.
Second, if the owner did not take steps to restrain the animal or let it roam free in violation of leash laws and other dog bite ordinances, the owner can be held responsible. A dog owner can be held liable no matter where the incident occurs unless the owner has taken every reasonable measure to protect the public from contact with the aggressive animal.
If you or a family member is injured by a dog, you can recover compensation for economic losses such as medical expenses and pain and suffering, and in certain circumstances punitive damages may be available.
What You Can Do
Contributory negligence can be a defense, but under Georgia law, very young children cannot be contributorily negligent, and while older children can be negligent, there is always a jury question about their negligence in an individual case. If there is a valid issue of contributory negligence, the compensation awarded by the jury will be reduced by the percentage of fault that the jury places on the injured person. If the injured person is found to be 50 percent or more responsible, they may be barred from collecting and compensation at all. Proper analysis of the likely outcome requires investigation by an experienced personal injury attorney.
Tips to Avoid Bites
Here are ways you can help prevent a dog bite:
- Approach any dog with caution. Dogs may feel threatened if someone approaches them suddenly or reaches out to touch them.
- If you want to pet a dog, first ask the handler if it’s OK. Then let the dog sniff your hands. You may also want to kneel down on its level.
- Avoid direct eye contact with the dog. A dog may interpret direct eye contact as aggression.
- If you are approached by an unfamiliar dog, stand still and remain motionless. Do not run or scream.
- Report unusual behavior, such as foaming at the mouth, to an adult or animal control when it is safe to do so.
- If you are knocked over, curl up in a ball and don’t move.
- Don’t disturb a dog that is eating, drinking or sleeping.
- Obey an owner’s word of caution.
- Don’t reach into a parked car if you see a dog inside.
If You Are Bitten
If you have been attacked:
- Seek medical treatment immediately, even if your injuries seem minor. You may need a tetanus shot or antibiotics. This also provides a record that could be used at trial.
- Get all of the owner’s information, including name, address and telephone number.
- Report the animal to your local animal control.
- Keep any personal evidence of the attack, such as torn clothing and photos of the injuries.