In March of last year, 8-year-old Erin Ingram was playing in her own front yard when she was suddenly attacked and mauled by her neighbor’s two dogs. Details in an article by April Hunt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveal the attack was so brutal that medical doctors had to amputate the young girl’s left arm below the elbow. In court, almost a year after the incident, jurors listened to the eight minute 911 call in which Ingram could be heard screaming for help.
Typically, the right to recover for a dog bite in Georgia will be dependent upon either the dog’s history and/or the leash laws applicable in the county or city where the dog attack occurred. This dog attack took place in Dekalb County, an area with a strict vicious dog ordinance, and came just months after that very same county was considering lifting its pit bull ban. It’s the only county to have such a law, a 2005 proposal for a statewide ban against pit bulls was met with failure. Animal rights activists advocated a repeal of the ban, refusing to attribute the tendency to attack to any particular breed of dog, and choosing instead to criticize bad owners for their pets’ behavior. The dog bite incident in March seemed to underscore this point – one dog was a full-blooded pit bull, the other was a mutt. The owner was charged with reckless conduct, violation of county’s vicious dog ordinance and not having the dogs immunized for rabies – two counts each, and could face up to five years in jail if found liable and convicted.
Dog bite attorneys are familiar with Georgia’s dog bite statute, OCGA 51-2-7, which significantly favors dog owners/handlers over dog bite victims. The statute provides two primary ways that an animal owner (or handler) may be found liable for injuries inflicted by his animal:
•One way is the “scienter” ground, the proof of which is threefold. The plaintiff must first show that the animal was dangerous or vicious, second, that the defendant had knowledge of the animal’s temperament (the “scienter”), and third, that the defendant either recklessly managed it or was neglectful of its care, by allowing it to roam freely.
•The second ground is the ordinance ground. The plaintiff must prove that the animal was not leashed as required by a local law, and that the defendant either recklessly managed it or was neglectful of its care.
As you can see, plaintiffs in dog bite cases have to make a rigorous show of proof in order to win their case. However, where the injuries are so severe, as in the incident discussed earlier in this post, the plaintiff has the added aid of appealing to the empathy of the jury. Potential plaintiffs need to know that when it comes to dog or animal bite cases, insurance companies will often try to settle quickly, and for this very reason. It may often take months for the extent of damages resulting from an animal bite to be properly assessed, and settling quickly allows insurers off the hook for future damages – often at a significantly lower amount.
If you feel you have a claim for a dog bite or other animal injury, the best thing to do is consult with a qualified attorney about your options and the value of your claim with no risk to you.