The American Humane Society reports that more than four million people in the U.S. become dog bite victims every year. Over 800,000 of those victims visit U.S. emergency rooms each year. Many dog bites cause severe damage, and a few are even fatal. Could you be at risk? What about your child? When a dog bites someone, what should happen next?

Children are the victims of about half of all dog bites. The elderly are also dog bite victims in disproportionate numbers. Thirty-four people died in the U.S. in 2015 as the result of dog bites. Biting dogs can cause serious nerve and muscle damage, disfigurement, scarring, and enduring psychological pain and harm.

How can you protect yourself and your child from biting dogs? Which dogs are the most dangerous? And precisely what legal recourse do dog bite victims have in the state of Georgia? Keep reading – those questions and more are about to be answered. First, an explanation of how the law and the courts in Georgia handle dog bite cases.

HOW ARE DOG BITES HANDLED LEGALLY IN GEORGIA?

Some states impose what the law calls “strict liability” on dog owners. In those states, owners are “strictly” liable for injuries that their dogs cause, whether or not the owners were aware of the dog’s aggressive nature. However, strict liability for dog owners is not the law in Georgia.

To be awarded damages in Georgia, a dog bite victim must prove that:

– the dog was vicious or dangerous, and
– the owner knew or should have known that the dog was vicious or dangerous

The dog’s aggressive nature and the owner’s awareness of that nature are separate issues in a dog bite case, and a plaintiff must prove both for his or her lawsuit to prevail. Proving a dog owner’s knowledge can sometimes be difficult, so any dog bite victim in Georgia will need to be represented by an experienced Atlanta dog bite attorney.

WHAT’S THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF A “DANGEROUS” DOG IN GEORGIA?

Georgia’s Dangerous Dog Control Law defines a dangerous dog as any dog that, according to reliable records, has inflicted a serious, unprovoked injury on a human person after March 31, 1989, or any dog that bites, attacks, or endangers persons without provocation after the dog has been classified as a dangerous dog and after the owner has been notified of that classification.

Georgia law makes the owner of a dangerous dog solely liable for injuries and fatalities caused by the dog. Dogs in Georgia are presumed to be harmless until they bite or attack someone. However, once a dog has been classified as dangerous, the owner is “on notice,” cannot argue that he or she had no prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive nature, and needs to take special safety precautions.

However, even when a dog owner has violated a local ordinance or has otherwise acted in a way that may increase his liability, an owner may claim that a plaintiff “assumed the risk” of engaging with the dog. That defense can succeed for dog owners if there is evidence that the plaintiff, without coercion, freely chose to engage with the dog with full knowledge of the potential danger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of the most dangerous dogs, and they are Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, and Chow chows. The reality, however, is that any dog can be provoked, and any strange dog should be considered dangerous until proven otherwise.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR KIDS FROM DOG ATTACKS?

How can you protect yourself and your family from dangerous dogs? Dogs usually indicate when they’re about to bite, and knowing what those indications are is imperative, especially for children. Hackles may stand up on the dog’s back and neck. The dog may appear to freeze or go rigid. The dog may growl, bark, lift its lips, and/or bare its teeth.

But not every dog will show these warning signs. Parents must be quite frank when teaching their children about strange and aggressive dogs. For children and for adults, whenever you encounter a dog that you are not already familiar with, do not approach, pet, touch, or even make eye contact with the dog.

Making eye contact is natural and hard to avoid but essential. Eye contact can provoke some dogs. Remain calm and motionless – the dog will usually move away, or the owner may appear. Don’t yell, scream, or run – that may further provoke an already-dangerous dog. Parents should teach children to ask for a dog owner’s permission to approach or pet a dog.

WHAT DAMAGE CAN A DOG BITE DO?

After a dog bite, obtain medical treatment at once. If the dog has displayed symptoms of rabies – or if the animal cannot be located – your doctor may order rabies vaccinations. The possible consequences of a dog bite also include lacerations, deep and severe muscle and tissue damage, and scarring and disfigurement that may be long-term or permanent.

Georgia dog owners should be familiar with state laws and also with local ordinances regarding dogs and owners. Every Georgia county has unique rules and expectations of pet owners. Owners should also make certain that they understand their homeowners insurance policy, which should provide coverage if you are named as a defendant in a premises liability lawsuit arising from a dog bite.

If a dog bites, obtain medical attention and treatment first. Animal bites are easily infected; an untreated bite can become a serious medical condition – or even a fatality – quite quickly. Then get whatever information you can regarding both the dog and its owner. If you can get pictures of the dog, it helps. If eyewitnesses saw the incident, try to get their names and a way to contact them.

HOW CAN AN ANIMAL BITES INJURY ATTORNEY HELP?

The next priority is speaking with an experienced Atlanta dog bite attorney – a lawyer who routinely represents injury victims in premises liability and personal injury cases. Your attorney will examine the details of the dog bite incident, gather evidence, speak with any witnesses, and negotiate on your behalf for a fair and acceptable settlement.

Most dog bite cases in Georgia are resolved with no need for a trial, but sometimes a reasonable settlement isn’t made available and a trial will become necessary. That’s why your dog bite attorney must be an experienced negotiator as well as a skilled trial lawyer who will advocate aggressively on your behalf.

Do your best to avoid a dog bite – they are, quite honestly, incredibly painful. Teach your children as well. Nevertheless, if you or someone you love sustains a dog bite in the Metro Atlanta area – or anywhere in the state – legal help is here to help you win the compensation and justice that you’ll need and deserve.