What happens where the dog owner is careful and has the dog on a leash but it lunges and bites? A recent Georgia dog bite decision arose after the plaintiff was bitten by a dog and sued the dog’s owner for negligence per se and other causes of action. The key issue is whether the dog owner complies with the local laws. In this case the local law required the owner to keep the animal under control and the plaintiff argued that is exactly what they did not due. The trial court gave an automatic win to the plaintiff on summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed.
The case arose when a six-foot-tall woman was walking her 80-pound dog in the park one summer day. The dog was on a two-foot leash. The plaintiff was supervising a delivery of equipment for a concert in the park. When the woman and her dog walked toward the cab where he was, the dog lunged and bit him. The woman didn’t see the plaintiff until after he was bitten.
She would later testify at deposition that she’d pulled the dog away after the bite, but she couldn’t restrain the dog during the moment that he lunged. She argued she was able to physically restrain the dog, but the dog had acted instinctively, quickly, and unexpectedly. She testified that the dog hadn’t acted like this before. However, a police officer issued her an arrest citation for violating a city ordinance.
Because of the citation for violating Fulton County Code section 34-205, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of negligence per se. This motion was granted. The defendant appealed, arguing that there was a question of material fact about whether the dog was controlled by a competent person at the time of the biting.
The plaintiff argued that the lower court’s ruling was proper because the defendant admitted that she’d violated the county ordinance, that she hadn’t kept the dog under control, and that if she had, the dog wouldn’t have bitten.
Under OCGA § 51-2-7, someone who keeps a vicious or dangerous pet, and either carelessly manages him or allows the animal to travel at liberty and cause injury to a victim who didn’t provoke an attack, can be liable for the victim’s damages. To prove vicious propensity, the plaintiff can show the pet should have been on a leash or at heel under a county, city, or other government ordinance and that at the time of the incident, he wasn’t.
In order to prevail, the plaintiff needs to prove careless management or permitting an animal to go free, viciousness or lack of restraint at the time of the injury in violation of a law requiring restraint, and injuries to the plaintiff. In this case, the local ordinance stated that it was illegal for a dog owner to permit a dog to leave its premises unless the dog was securely leashed by a leash under six feet long that was under the control of someone competent.
The trial court had found the dog wasn’t under the defendant’s control when it lunged. The appellate court found that if it accepted this, every plaintiff would win on the issue of whether there was a duty and a breach. The plaintiff didn’t show that there was no dispute about whether the dog’s owner had managed the dog carelessly. The dog’s owner had complied with the leash law and was tall and big enough to potentially be able to restrain the dog. There was no evidence to show a propensity for vicious conduct. Accordingly, the appellate court determined that a jury should have decided whether or not there was careless management. It reversed the summary judgment.
Atlanta personal injury attorney Christopher Simon has many years of experience with a wide variety of negligence actions, and he is ready to help you assess and bring a potential claim. If you’ve recently been injured by another party’s animal and believe it may be a result of negligence, feel free to contact us and arrange a complimentary case evaluation.