Court Discusses the Availability of Punitive Damages in Recent Georgia Dog Bite Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an important opinion in a Georgia dog bite case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages was supported by sufficient evidence to submit the claim to a jury. Translating the legalese, the Court of Appeals said that if there was a prior incident where the dog had been aggressive and the owner could not control it, then the victim in the second incident could have the jury consider punishment damages.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff agreed to take her son’s five-pound Yorkshire terrier to a local dog park. As the plaintiff approached the fenced-in dog park, she noticed that the defendant was in the park with her two dogs. The defendant’s dogs were 75 pounds and 40 pounds. Hesitant to let the dogs play together, the plaintiff asked the defendant when she was planning on leaving. The defendant just shrugged her shoulders.

Legal News GavelThe plaintiff waited outside the dog park for the defendant to leave. Eventually, the defendant leashed her dogs and began to exit the park. However, as she did so, the two dogs got away from her and attacked both the plaintiff and her son’s dog. The plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the attack, and her son’s dog was killed. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, seeking punitive damages.

In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented a witness who was a neighbor of the defendant. The witness testified that the defendant’s dogs had previously attempted to attack a neighborhood dog that was being walked by an older woman and that the defendant’s dogs would likely have been successful in their attack if he had not intervened.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim, finding the one attempted attack insufficient to put the defendant on notice that her dogs were dangerous. The plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Analysis

The court began its analysis by explaining Georgia’s “one bite rule,” which imposes liability on a dog owner for injuries caused by the dog if the defendant has reason to believe that the dog had attacked in the past. The court clarified that the one-bite rule was a bit of a misnomer, in that the rule does not require a successful attack; an attempted attack is sufficient to establish liability.

That being the case, the court found that the defendant should have been on notice that her dogs were dangerous. From there, the court went on to hold that the defendant’s actions on the day of the attack were such that a jury may reasonably believe she showed a “conscious disregard” for the safety of others, which was the standard for establishing a punitive damages claim. As a result, the court permitted the plaintiff’s claim to proceed toward trial.

Have You Been a Victim of a Georgia Dog Attack?

If you or a loved one has recently been attacked by a dog, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia dog bite lawsuit. Attorney Christopher S. Simon and his dedicated team of Georgia personal injury lawyers represent those injured in all types of accidents, including Georgia dog bites. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 404-259-7635 today.

Read More:

Slipping in Hotel Bath in Georgia is Not Good Case, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published February 17, 2018

Landlord Liability for Off-Premises Dog Attack in Georgia, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published January 29, 2018