Articles Posted in Animal Law

As a trial attorney specializing in personal injury cases, I have had the opportunity to handle various legal matters, including dog bite cases. Throughout my career, I have closely followed the evolution of dog bite case law in the state of Georgia. In this article, I will share insights and perspectives on the key aspects of dog bite litigation, examining relevant statutes, court decisions, and the responsibilities of dog owners. By understanding the intricacies of this area of law, we can shed light on the legal landscape surrounding dog bites and promote safer communities for both humans and animals.

The Statutory Framework

Dog bite cases in Georgia are primarily governed by statutory law. Under Georgia Code Section 51-2-7, dog owners are held liable for injuries caused by their dogs if they had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity. This statute follows the “one-bite” rule, which means that an owner may escape liability for the first incident, but subsequent incidents could expose them to legal consequences.
I recently settled another dog bite attack against an owner of an aggressive dog.  The dog owner (and dog) resided in The Country Club of the South – an upscale country club gated community in Johns Creek, Georgia.  My client is a UPS driver who had delivered packages to defendant’s home approximately 3-4 times prior to the attack- on these occasions; he did not see any dog or notice any dog warning signs on the property.  As with other dog bite cases, I mailed out letters to defendant’s surrounding neighbors to solicit information and instances of prior aggressive behavior from defendant’s dog prior to filing a lawsuit.

The Attack:  My client brought several packages up the driveway to defendant’s front door.  The front door had a glass window and my client did not need to press the doorbell as he could see the owner coming to the door. The defendant opened her door and two unleashed (violation of leash law) dogs came out and ran circles around my client.  Without provocation, the big dog (a German shepherd mix) jumped on my client and bit him several times on the arm and ankle leaving bloody puncture marks.  At the time of settlement, there were several small permanent scars on my client’s ankle.

Fulton County Animal Control:  Personnel from the County investigated the attack and wrote up a report.  Among other citations, the owner was cited for allowing her dogs to run at large while not under constraint and control of a competent person; violations under Fulton County and Johns Creek ordinances.  Typically, the city has the same dog ordinances as the county.

Recently, I settled a dog bite claim for $50,000.00 on behalf of a deserving client after filing suit in State Court of DeKalb County. The attack occurred in Waterford neighborhood which is located in Dunwoody – a suburb of Atlanta. The neighborhood was built back in the 1970s and has over several hundred homes. I consider it to be a large neighborhood. And, a lot of the neighbors own dogs – the majority of which are competent and responsible dog owners.

Our dog bite attack occurred back in the fall of 2018 and involved an unleashed grey/white male pit bull/Great Dane mix that had escaped through an open gate in the owner’s backyard. The dog immediately ran down toward the street and my client who at the time was walking her leashed two small dogs on the sidewalk. My client saw the pit bull and immediately picked up her smaller dog and attempted to walk away. However, the pit bull continued to circle her and my client was constantly moving in a circle to keep an eye on the pit. In the process of attempting to protect herself, she fell down upon the roadway. She was not sure if the pit had knocked her down or if she fell of her own accord onto her shoulder. When she attempted to get back on her feet off the ground, the pit started to bite her ankle when she was at her most vulnerable. The pit bit holes through her pant leg and socks and caused several dog puncture bite wounds to her ankle. My client was screaming from the pain but was able to get on her feet when the pit started to come back toward her to commence another attack.

My client was able pull out her pepper spray and sprayed the pit in the face which caused the pit to run back inside the fence of his owner. A fellow neighbor witnessed the attack and was able to close the fence door. Several drivers had stopped their cars in the roadway and witnessed the event – although, none got out to help. Allegedly, the owner of the pit was not home at the time of the attack and the pit had no previous history of attacks. DeKalb County Animal Services ordered that the pit be quarantined at home. Until there was confirmation of rabies vaccination for the pit, my client was on pins and needles.

Recently, I settled an outstanding lawsuit against an owner of an alleged “service” dog that was brought into a national chain of steakhouses in Greater Atlanta.  Nowadays, it is not surprising to see service dogs in retail stores, restaurants and other public spaces.  For my earlier post regarding “service” dogs and dog bites,  click here.

The backstory on our case is that the owner of the dog was on a trip from West Coast and passing through Georgia on her way to the East Coast with her friend.  Along for the ride was a mixed breed large male dog that growled at the hostess on the way into the restaurant and again at the manager of the restaurant on the way out after the attack.  Several other employees were also ready and willing to testify as what occurred after the dog bite.  Upon deposition, it was clear that the owner of the dog was a difficult and angry person.  There was no evidence available to indicate that the dog was involved in prior attacks/bites at people/animals prior to our claim.

My client was a young server at the restaurant and did not ask the defendant whether or not her dog was an authentic  and genuine “service” dog at the time of service pursuant to a mix of restaurant policy and nebulous law from a county/state perspective.  What actually constitutes a “service” dog is still up for debate from a city/county/state/national analysis and there are no clearly enforced guidelines to steer individuals/businesses in this regard.  In fact, anyone can do a Google search for a service dog vest for sale, buy it, and upon receipt place it on their dog with no questions asked.  The defendant later admitted during discovery that the dog was not a trained “service” dog and only wore (and did not earn a service vest – most likely, to discourage prospective questions when she brought her dog into public places of accommodation/service.

50062_dog_bite-300x225Over a year ago, a young vibrant 12-year-old little girl was walking and skipping in the street with her friends in her DeKalb County neighborhood at night.  At or around the same time and unbeknownst to her, a neighbor’s pit bull mix dog either pushed open a side door or gate and charged down the driveway and into the street toward the children.

Unfortunately, my 12-year-old client did not hear or see the pit bull until it was too late.  And the cries and shouts of her friends beforehand were wasted.  She turned, tripped and fell down upon the ground where she attempted to kick at the dog to protect herself to no avail.  The strength of the pit bull’s jaw leveraged down upon the victim, bit her to the bone and ripped a chunk of flesh from her lower leg.

The  adult male owner of the dog contended that the little girl provoked the dog to attack by kicking it in the street.  For what cogent reason a young child would kick a pit bull at night, the owner could only speculate.  Of course, the owner’s contention was a lie.

Attributed to Channel 2 News

A horrible news story came out today in Atlanta regarding a 5-month-old baby girl, Paige Bradley, who was killed in Forest Park, Georgia, by a German Shepherd dog. The back-story is that the dog had been around the baby for the baby’s entire short life.

The mother allowed the baby to go to a different home where a dog lived, ate, and slept. The male babysitter (and roommate to the mother) was asleep in a different room in the home at the time of the dog attack – the story does not indicate any details of barking, growling, noise or similar conduct at the time of the attack. The mother came to pick up the baby later that evening and noticed that the baby was not responsive – specific details of the particular attack were missing from the report.

I have represented numerous innocent victims statewide throughout Georgia who have been forced to file lawsuits against dog owners who have adopted dogs from the humane society, no kill shelters,dog-attack-1312618 and county adoption centers.  The adopted dogs in these cases have caused vicious attacks on children and adults alike; frequently, with permanent injuries and scarring that will last a lifetime and cause mental pain and suffering.

Without fail, the defendant owner(s) or possessor(s) of dogs in these dog bite cases highlight in their deposition and trial testimony that they graciously and selflessly adopted these dogs as puppies, young dogs, or adult dogs in an attempt to tug at the heart strings of the jury and garner sympathy for the plight that they owners find themselves in the suit.

While the adoption centers provide a great service to dogs of past owners that cannot or will not care for their own pets, the centers do not guarantee the temperament, personality or safety of these dogs to future owners.  In fact, when you review the adoption contract language that new owners are required to read and sign prior to taking possession of the dog, you see that the new owner affirms that the adoption center provides no representation or guarantee as to the temperament of their new pet and further understands that dogs are unpredictable animals that will behave in unknown circumstances and factual scenarios.

Last week, two pit bulls combined to go in for the kill on a horse in Gwinnett County.  Somehow, the pit bull dogs were able to enter into the corral on the premises of a Buford area home.  The owner, Barbara Horrobin, advised that her horse underwent over four hours of suturing the wound from injuries to the neck, throat and armpit.  Horrobin stated that “[i]t was gruesome.”

I am not surprised at seeing yet another pit bull attack in Georgia.  The pit bull breed is still a popular choice among Georgia residents.  The more pit bulls in an area, the higher likelihood of an attack.

In this case, the pit bulls were prowling for a victim off their owner’s land and attacked without being provoked, teased or physically touched in any way.  Can you imagine if the two pit bulls went after a young child or baby?  It would most likely have led to the death of a human.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits a wide range of discrimination in public accommodations, including a prohibition against discriminating against an individual based upon their disability status. Following its initial enactment, the Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh”) was expanded to incorporate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the enjoyment of public accommodations. Unruh does not expressly address service dogs, but the ADA does, and it defines a service animal to mean “any dog that is individually trained to do work for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.” Further, the statute requires that the animal have completed training. The California Court of Appeal noted in a 2017 case that the language of the statute used the word “trained” and read it as to exclude animals that are in the process of being trained, or that have not yet completed training, from inclusion as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Surprisingly, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has also weighed in on the characterization of service animals who have been trained or are currently in training. The DOJ published a series of responses to frequently asked questions in 2015, and interpreted the ADA as to require that a dog be already trained before it can be taken into public places. The California Court of Appeal relied upon the statutory language of Unruh and the ADA, along with the guidance from the DOJ to arrive at its decision that the prohibition against arbitrary discrimination in public accommodations applies to trained service dogs, but not service dogs in training.

The syntactic distinction may seem minor, but the difference in a “trained” and “in-training” service animal has significant societal and legal implications. First, the training of service animals, like any sort of training, requires experience in the sort of locations and situations in which it will be utilized in the future. This interpretation will impose severe limitations on the availability of locations in which service animals may receive beneficial training, and could result in the sort of consequences the statute was enacted to protect. Secondly, this ruling will also likely impact the number of service animals that will be available to disabled persons in the future, as the ruling imposes limitations on the viability of getting the service animals trained properly and in a timely manner.

However, the Court of Appeal’s analysis did not end there. The Disabled Persons Act (“DPA”) expressly addresses service animals and, unlike the ADA, extends the protections against arbitrary discrimination to service animals that are being trained. That extension of protection is not without limitation, however, as it requires that the animal’s presence in the place of public accommodation must be “for the purpose of furthering their training.” Further, the DPA recognizes only three categories of people who are permitted to bring a service animal which is in the process of being trained into an establishment for the purpose of furthering that training: (1) the disabled person; (2) persons licensed to train service animals; and (3) persons “authorized” to train services animals. Because the term “authorized” has various meanings, the court analyzed how to best define the term at length, and concluded that “persons authorized to train” service animals means “any person who is credentialed to do so by virtue of their education or experience.

Yet another dog attack in Georgia last week (August 1) resulted in the death of a 20-month old baby in Athens, and the subsequent arrest of the grandmother, Sandra Adams, and dog owner on several felony charges. The grandmother was allegedly in the backyard with the child when the two pit bulls came out of the back door and knocked the grandmother to the ground before mauling the small child. According to reports from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Adams had been cited on multiple occasions about maintaining “disorderly animals.” Although more facts would be necessary for making any determination regarding Adams’ criminal culpability for the incident, her previous citations for maintaining disorderly animals would likely be sufficient to subject her to civil liability.

In Georgia, a dog owner is liable for harm caused by the animal where the owner had knowledge of the animal’s propensity for violence. Such knowledge can be demonstrated by a variety of incidents, including the existence of a previous attack or even an unprovoked, attempted attack. For more information on updated Georgia law and dog attacks, please visit my blog.

While the specific circumstances surrounding the citations for maintaining disorderly animals remains unclear, it is unlikely that the citations were issued absent some event involving a third party complaining about the animals’ behavior. Assuming that the citations involved some demonstration of violent behavior, in the eyes of the law Adams would have notice of the animals’ propensity for violence sufficient to give rise to civil liability for the animals’ actions.  Additionally, because Adams was acting in the capacity of a babysitter when the child was attacked, she owed a heightened duty of care to protect the child from harm. This heightened duty of care would increase the parents’ likelihood of prevailing against the babysitter in a civil action. However, the familial relationship between the child and the babysitter-grandmother makes it difficult to hypothesize whether the parents will seek to sue the grandmother in civil court, especially considering the fact that the grandmother is facing criminal charges for 2nd degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

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