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Georgia Dog Bite Law: The Basics

Georgia dog bite laws can help you recover your medical costs should Fido down the street suddenly attack you or a family member.

About 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year according to the Centers for Disease Control. Almost one in five of those dog-bite victims require medical attention.

Dog bites fall under personal injury - or tort -- law, similar to car accidents or slip and falls. However, they can be even more complex than those other accidents because state, county, and city laws all have provisions that govern dog bites. If you or someone in your family has been the victim of a dog bite in Georgia, you should contact an accident lawyer who has experience handling these kinds of cases.

First Things First

In the immediate aftermath of a dog bite, you should try to ascertain the ownership of the dog, even while you seek out medical attention. This is because of the risk of rabies. If medical and animal control and/or law enforcement officials cannot determine whether the dog was current in its rabies shots, your medical provider may assume the worst and submit you to a round of painful and expensive rabies vaccinations.

If the dog's owner cannot be found, or the animal is a stray, it will be euthanized according to Georgia's manual on rabies control. If the dog has expired vaccinations, it will be taken in for quarantined observation and monitored for signs of rabies. Your medical provider will adjust your treatment according to the findings of animal control officers caring for the dog.

Beyond rabies, dog bites can tear nerves and tendons; the area bitten can also become infected. Medical bills, time off from work, and property damage can be expensive. Should you sue?

Georgia Dog Bite Law

Dog owners in Georgia have strict liability for the damage and injuries their pets cause. Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible for any injuries the dog may cause regardless of most circumstances.

However, there are some caveats. For a dog-bite victim to be successful in a lawsuit, the dog must have been considered "dangerous" or "vicious" at the time of the attack. This, however, could be as simple as showing that the dog was off leash in an area that has a leash law.

Three counties in Georgia have breed-specific dog laws. In Floyd County, pit bulls are declared vicious. In La Grange County, pit bulls are restricted. They must be registered with the county, and the owners must show proof of having liability insurance. Lawrenceville County bans pit bulls outright.

Another important factor to consider is where the attack took place. Under Georgia dog bite law, dogs have the right to defend their property. So a successful lawsuit must involve a dog bite attack that took place off the dog owner's property, with the dog "at large by the careless management of the owner."

Finally, if the injured person somehow provoked the animal to attack - such as prodding it with a stick - the lawsuit will be unsuccessful.

What Expenses Can You Recover From a Dog Bite Lawsuit?

As a Georgia dog bite victim who has been injured as a result of the dog bite, you may be able to sue to recover the following expenses:

  • Your medical bills
  • Lost income, both from treating the immediate injury and any future lost income should you become incapacitated
  • Pain and suffering which could include a new fear of dogs, especially in children who may continue to have nightmares after the attack
  • Property damage, if any
  • Loss of consortium, which means that the injury somehow damaged your relationship with your spouse or family

What Role Does Insurance Play?

Many homeowner policies will cover the costs associated with the dog bites. Typical liability policies may from $100,000 to $300,000 worth of coverage.

Some insurance companies decline to cover certain breeds that have an acknowledged propensity to bite, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers. The insurance company might not cover the bite if it takes place on the owner's property where the owner runs an at-home business, even if part-time, because many policies have a business pursuits exclusion. Finally, bites that take place in the owner's car may instead be covered by an automobile policy.

If the dog owner has liability insurance, it is likely that the insurance company will be paying for the owner's defense.

Again, your Georgia lawyer familiar with dog-bite accidents will advise you on whether you should pursue a lawsuit as a result of your dog-bite injuries based on your incident's set of circumstances.