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.
Moreover, the parents may also be able to seek recovery under a theory of premises liability. Generally, owners owe invitees a duty to protect them from foreseeable harm while on the premises, and a visitor’s status as an invitee or licensee depends upon the purpose for his or her visit to the premises. Here, because the grandmother was acting as a babysitter the child will likely be classified as an invitee, meaning she had a duty to protect the child from all foreseeable harm. As applied to this situation, the grandmother had a duty to protect the child from harm from the dogs if it was foreseeable that the dogs would attack the child. Because reports have indicated that the grandmother received citations for maintaining disorderly animals, it is likely that it was foreseeable that the animals would attack someone. Thus, the grandmother likely breached the duty she owed to the child to protect her from being harmed by the dogs.
This tragic string of events should be a warning to all owners of animals that have demonstrated some propensity for violence in the past, as the facts of this situation indicate that knowledge of an animal’s tendency for violent acts may give rise to criminal culpability in addition to civil liability. Because any charge of murder requires some level of malice, meaning that the bad actor intended the death to occur or acted with reckless and wanton disregard for human life resulting in the death, knowledge of the animal’s propensity and a failure to prevent it from causing harm, can be sufficient to subject the owner to criminal culpability for murder. Thus, the law imposes harsh burdens on animal owners who know of the animals’ violent propensity and fail to do anything to prevent it from causing harm.
As the events in Athens demonstrate, a simple failure to prevent harm can ruin the lives of the victim and the animal owner as well. In Georgia alone, there have been numerous instances this year of vicious animal attacks that have left victims irreparably harmed or dead, and the owners on the hook for damages in civil court and in some situations, facing criminal charges and potential prison time. Sandra Adams’ life has been permanently changed simply for failing to take the steps necessary to ensure that her dogs would not harm anyone, as she may never again be permitted to live outside the confines of a state correctional facility. Moreover, the child’s parents have suffered irreparable harm and will likely be able to recover from Adams for the wrongful death of their child, although whether they choose to sue the child’s grandmother will be a difficult decision for the parents to make as they grieve for the loss of their late child.
Unlike other attorneys, I have successfully tried dog bite cases in Court and am available to speak to you about your dog bite case. With my varied experience, I would be glad to speak with you at your convenience regarding your case. Please note that the Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting dog bite cases throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a dog attack, then please contact me immediately, as time if of the essence and crucial information and evidence needs to be secured as soon as possible