Americans love dogs. What’s not to love? Dogs are loyal companions who bring comfort and joy to millions of people every day, and they are extremely popular. According to the Insurance Information Institute, over 60% of American households have a dog. Unfortunately, some dog owners are irresponsible. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. About 800,000 of those attacks require medical care.
What are your rights if someone’s dog bites you and causes an injury?
You may have a claim against the dog’s owner. Under Georgia law, injured people can sue the owner or person who was otherwise in control of the dog if (1) the dog has a “vicious propensity” or (2) if the dog caused the injury because it wasn’t on a leash in violation of a local rule. When plaintiffs prove the dog had a pattern of aggressive behavior before attacking them, a jury can require the dog’s owner to pay punitive damages for failing to do something about the danger the dog presented. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant, instead of just repay the plaintiff for their losses.
To win their cases, injured people must show the dog caused an injury because the owner or person in control carelessly allowed the dog to roam free or otherwise violated a leash law. A good lawyer will investigate the dog’s history. Does it have a history of hurting people or other dogs? Has it displayed aggressive behavior like growling or snapping at people? A good lawyer will also find every rule, such as local ordinances, to make the case that the dog was required to be on a leash by law. When someone violates a leash law and their dog attacks, it does not matter if the dog has ever displayed aggressive behavior before – it could be the first time the dog has even growled. The reasoning is that no one would have been hurt if the dog’s owner had simply followed the law.
In addition to the dogs’ owners, injured people occasionally have valid claims against landlords. Sometimes, a dog gets free and injures someone because of a “defective condition.” For example, a dog owner may rent a house from a landlord, and the dog owner may diligently leash their dog on walks and keep it gated when at home. But if the dog breaks through the gate and bites someone due to a problem with the gate, the landlord may be responsible for the injury, instead of (or perhaps in addition to) the dog owner.
The most common type of money to recover is compensatory damages. As we wrote above, compensatory damages are supposed to compensate a plaintiff for the injuries they sustained due to someone’s negligence. They include medical bills and pain and suffering. As we often see in these cases, people can be severely traumatized by these attacks. They may fear encounters with dogs they don’t know, even if they aren’t being aggressive. They may not want to go somewhere with dogs roaming around or even walking on leashes. Sadly, some people (especially children) become fearful of their own dogs after being attacked by another dog. A good lawyer will argue that there’s compensatory value in this fear. In Georgia, plaintiffs can recover for emotional distress as long as that distress is caused by a physical injury.
The lawyers at Rafi Law Firm have experience investigating dog bite cases and recovering for people who have been injured by dogs. If you’ve been injured by someone else’s dog, call us for a free consultation or click here.