Liability for Harm Caused By Dogs in Georgia

In Georgia, a landowner can be held liable for failure to exercise ordinary care by keeping his property safe. This includes protecting others from risks that the landowner knows about, that those invited onto the property would not know about. It also includes inspecting for any dangerous conditions. Georgia dog bite (and other dog injuries) cases can arise from the premises liability statute or from the dangerous animal liability statute.

Either way, the plaintiff usually has to show evidence that a dog had vicious propensities in order to show that a defendant landowner had superior knowledge of the dangers than the plaintiff did. Without such evidence, it would be hard to hold a defendant landowner accountable for dog bites. However, other theories can apply.

For example, somebody can be held liable for dog bites through a theory of negligent performance of a voluntary undertaking. This law requires that somebody who undertakes a service has the duty to exercise care and is responsible injuries that result from his failure to do that. Someone who performs those duties negligently, even if he did so out of the goodness of his heart, can be held liable.
This theory was used in a 2003 dog bite case. In that case, the plaintiff filed a complaint for personal injuries suffered while he was on a couple’s property to install cable television. When he got to the house, he saw some dogs and asked if they would bite or if they were aggressive.

Joseph Smith, one of the landowners, reassured him that there would be no problem. He mentioned there was one he couldn’t be sure of. Two of the dogs were visible in a fenced yard. The plaintiff was sitting in his truck and only got out once Smith told him it was safe. Smith also offered to restrain the dogs if it would make him feel better. Smith left briefly, saying he would take care of it.

The plaintiff installed the cable and started to go. He was blind in his right eye. As he was going down the driveway with Smith, a black dog ran towards him and slammed him to the ground. He rested and finished the installation. He noticed his leg was swollen.

The man filed suit under the premises liability and dangerous animal statutes. Smith testified as to a different set of facts, only agreeing the dogs were present. Smith testified he owned two of the dogs and the third dog was a neighbor’s. Smith testified his boxer and another dog were in the backyard with his wife. He denied seeing the dogs come up to the plaintiff. Neither he nor his wife believed that their dog struck the plaintiff.

The parties only agreed that the plaintiff was an invitee, there was no leash law, and that the couple didn’t have knowledge of a dangerous propensity in their Boxer before the accident. The trial court granted the couple summary judgment, deciding there was no evidence that the plaintiff had asked the dog to be restrained and entered judgment for the couple.

The appellate court reversed, explaining that there were disputed facts as to whether Smith had voluntarily undertaken to restrain his dogs and whether his voluntary undertaking was negligently performed. The evidence showed all three dogs weren’t restrained and that there was a jury question as to whether Smith had agreed to ensure the dog wouldn’t pose a threat.

If you are hurt on somebody else’s property, you may be able to file a personal injury or premises liability suit. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.

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What is an Ante-Litem Notice in Georgia? February 28, 2014
Proximate Cause in Georgia Car Accidents, February 13, 2014
Tandem Driving Theory of Liability in Georgia Car Accidents, February 4, 2014