If you own a dog in Georgia, or you've been injured by someone else's dog, you'll want to understand the state's laws on dog bites or other injuries. In this article, we'll discuss:
Some states have laws on the books that establish a dog owner's "strict liability" for injuries caused by any dog, regardless of whether the owner knew (or should have known) that the dog might cause harm to another person or animal. Georgia law, however, states that a dog owner can be liable to anyone injured by the owner's dog only when:
So, what is a "vicious or dangerous animal"? The statute goes on to say that, in proving "vicious propensity," it's enough to show that the animal was required to be on a leash (or otherwise controlled) under local law at the time of the incident.
(Ga. Code § 51-2-7 (2022).)
In a situation where the "vicious or dangerous animal" factor doesn't apply, an injured person can still hold the dog owner liable if the owner's negligence resulted in the dog bite or other injury.
So, for example, if the dog was not required to be on a leash by law, but the animal's owner knew (or should have known) that the dog posed a danger to others, and the owner failed to take even the most basic precautions to prevent the animal from injuring someone (such as warning people not to try to pet the animal) the owner can be held liable for the person's injuries and related losses (damages), including compensation for medical bills, "pain and suffering," and other effects of the incident and resulting injuries. (Learn more about proving negligence in a personal injury case.)
In addition to the liability statute described above, Georgia's Responsible Dog Ownership Act has specific procedures for controlling dogs that are formally classified as "dangerous" or "vicious." The process to classify a dog as dangerous or vicious begins when someone reports a dog to a local animal control officer, who will investigate. If the animal control officer determines that the dog should be classified as dangerous or vicious, the officer must inform the owner within 72 hours, and notify the owner that they have a right to request a hearing with the local authorities to dispute the classification. If the owner does not respond with a request for a hearing with seven days, the animal control officer's determination will automatically go into effect. (Ga. Code § 4-8-23 (2022).)
The law imposes a number of obligations on owners of dogs that have been classified as dangerous or vicious, including:
Dog owners who fail to meet any of the required conditions for owning a dangerous or vicious dog can be convicted of a crime and face fines, jail time, or both. (See Ga. Code §§ 4-8-27 and 4-8-29 for the specific requirements for owning a dangerous or vicious dog.)
Under Georgia law, a dog is considered "dangerous" if it:
The law defines a "vicious dog" as a dog "that inflicts serious injury on a person or causes serious injury to a person resulting from reasonable attempts to escape from the dog's attack."
Georgia law specifically states that a dog cannot be classified as dangerous or vicious when it:
(Ga. Code § 4-8-21 (2022).)
In addition to the potential civil liability described above, anyone who violates provisions of the Responsible Dog Ownership Act can also face criminal charges. In most cases, the offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.
But certain offenses related to a dog classified as vicious can be result in the owner being convicted of a "misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature," punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of as much as $5,000, or both. And if an owner of a dog classified as dangerous or vicious has been convicted of violating any provision of the Responsible Dog Ownership Act, and then the dog seriously injures someone, the owner could be charged with a felony and, if convicted, receive between one and ten years in prison, a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000, or both.
And even if a dog owner is charged with—and convicted of—a crime in connection with a dog bite, the injured person may still sue the owner for damages in civil court.
(Ga. Code § 4-8-29, 4-8-32, 17-10-3, 17-10-4 (2022).)
There are a few situations that permit or require a dog to be euthanized in Georgia after it has injured someone. For instance, Georgia law permits any superior court judge to order a dog's euthanasia after notice and providing opportunity for a hearing if the dog has seriously injured a human or presents a danger to humans and is not suitable for control, and:
State law requires the euthanasia of a dog that has been found, after notice and opportunity for a hearing, to have caused a serious injury to a human on more than one occasion.
And, in addition to other penalties, the law requires the euthanasia of a dog that has been formally classified as dangerous or vicious (as described above) if:
(Ga. Code §§ 4-8-25, 4-8-26, 4-8-29 (2022).)
Under laws called statutes of limitations, all civil lawsuits are subject to strict limits on how much time can pass before the case must get started. Different kinds of cases are subject to different time limits, but the price you'll pay for missing the filing window is the same: the court will almost certainly dismiss your case as "time-barred," unless a rare extension of the filing deadline applies.
In Georgia, dog-bite (or dog-caused injury) claims almost always fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," so the state's statute of limitations for personal injury cases usually applies. This statute gives you two years, starting from the date of the underlying accident or incident, to file an "action for injuries to the person." In the context of a dog-bite lawsuit, that means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in the appropriate Georgia court within two years of the date of the bite or other injury. (Ga. Code § 9-3-33 (2022).)
There are a number of legal defenses a dog owner could raise in a civil lawsuit, depending on the circumstances surrounding the bite or other injury. For example, a Georgia dog owner could argue that the injured person:
If a defense is successful, the dog owner could avoid liability for the injured person's damages. (Note that different defenses could apply in a criminal case that results from a dog-related injury.)
If you find yourself involved in a dog-bite claim in Georgia—either as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it could be time to discuss your situation with a lawyer. You can use the features on this page to connect with an experienced attorney in your area, or you can learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.
And if you're facing criminal charges related to a dog bite or other injury, a criminal defense attorney can walk you through your options.