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Biting Back: Georgia Dog Owner Liability

Recently 13WMAZ ran an article on Vickey and Teresa Parker of Dodge County, who say they live in fear of their neighbor’s dogs and are even more afraid for their kids getting attacked while waiting on the school bus.

The Parker family filed three reports with the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office about the dogs. One of those reports states that Chris Parker was actually bitten by the dogs on his back. Dodge County Manager Spencer Barron gave WMAZ a statement saying they’ve had a dog ordinance in place since 1990, but they can’t enforce it because they don’t have the funds for an animal control department.

So in a situation like this where animal control is literally unavailable to respond to threats or attacks, what legal recourse do you have? In the past Georgia law stated an animal had to have a documented history of previous attacks for the owner to be liable…but that recently changed.

An important precedent was set in 2017 by the Georgia Supreme Court, helping the courts determine whether dog owners may be held liable for their pet’s attack. The question, the court said, is whether the dog previously exhibited such dangerous behavior that its owner should have known it had a tendency to attack someone.

In its decision, the court said if a dog had previously snapped at someone — not actually bitten someone — that could be enough to show that the owner knew he or she had a vicious animal on their hands adding another level of protection to Georgians in dog-bite cases.

Prior to that ruling, under Georgia law a person who owns a vicious animal could be found liable if the animal gets free and attacks someone. But the law did not presume that dogs are vicious; in fact, they were considered to be “a harmless species.”

A dog owner can be fined up to $5,000 and face one year in prison the first time their dog attacks someone. For any subsequent attacks, a dog owner can be charged up to $10,000 in fines and face 10 years in prison. For dog-bite victims to prevail, they must show the dog owner knew his pet had a propensity for violence, even if there wasn’t a previous biting incident.

As for the Parkers, Dodge County Manager Spencer Barron says they’ll discuss ways to make the county dog ordinance more strict at the upcoming commission meeting at 6 p.m. Monday August 26th.

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