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Atlanta Injury Lawyer > Georgia Dog Bite FAQs

Georgia Dog Bite FAQs

What to Do After a Dog Bite

Suffering a dog bite injury is painful and shocking, and it might be a medical emergency as well, depending on how serious the injury appears at first. Other than seeking medical attention, you might be at a loss about what to do and how to go about getting compensation for your medical bills and other expenses from the dog’s owner or their insurance company. An experienced dog bite injury attorney can handle those things for you and make sure they get done right. But there are a few things you can do at the scene and shortly after the accident to help secure your rights and ability to make a successful claim. Just as importantly, there are some things you want to avoid doing at the scene or shortly after the accident that could harm your case.

See below for tips about what to do and what not to do after a dog bite. If you or your child has been injured in a dog bite or animal attack in Atlanta, call Zagoria Law at 404-653-0023 for personalized legal advice and representation.

Things to Do After a Dog Bite in Atlanta

  • Get the contact information (name, address, phone number, email) of the dog’s owner or the people who had custody of the dog if not the owner
  • Get the owner’s insurance information, including the name of the company, policy number, and phone number. The relevant insurance policy could be a homeowner’s policy, a renter’s policy, a general liability policy or an umbrella policy. You might have to follow up with the owner after the fact to get this information; people don’t normally carry this information around like they do with automobile insurance information, which is required by law to be kept with the vehicle.
  • Insist on seeing the dog’s rabies vaccination records. Again, you will likely need to follow up after the fact to get this information, but the sooner you get it the better. Rabies symptoms don’t appear for several weeks after a bite, but by then it can be too late to successfully treat the disease and prevent death. If the dog was not current on the rabies vaccine, your doctor will want to begin prophylactic treatment right away.
  • Get the contact information (name, address, phone number, email) of any witnesses who saw the attack. You will want to do this at the scene or have somebody get it for you. Witnesses can sometimes be found after the fact, but it is more difficult to do this, and you want to get their statement on the record as soon after the attack as possible so it is freshest and most reliable.
  • Take pictures of the injury.
  • Take pictures of the scene of the attack. If the attack happened on the owner’s property, be sure to take pictures of any “beware of dog” signs indicating their size and placement, etc., as well as photographic evidence of the lack of any such signs. Smartphones and digital cameras are good for this purpose as they will timestamp the pictures for evidentiary uses.
  • Write down any statements made by the owner apologizing or admitting fault.
  • Go to the Emergency Room if necessary. If not, see a doctor as soon as possible after the attack. Even bruising that did not break the skin can be a sign of an underlying medical issue that needs to be treated.
  • Call a lawyer who specializes in handling dog bite cases. Do this before contacting any insurance company. Any injury that sent you to the hospital or a doctor is worthy of a visit to a lawyer. A qualified dog bite lawyer will visit with you for free and only charge a fee if they take your case and are successful in recovering compensation for you.
  • Report the incident to the appropriate animal control agency in your area, such as Fulton County Animal Services, DeKalb County Animal Enforcement, etc.

What Not to Do After a Dog Bite

  • Don’t accept any payment of any kind from the owner, custodian or insurer, whether explicitly offered as a settlement or not.
  • Do not agree to be recorded by another party or insurance company, either in person or over the phone.
  • Do not provide a written statement to another party or insurance company.
  • Be careful what you say to the dog owner. They may be distressed and you want to make them feel better, but statements like “I’m fine” or “It wasn’t your fault,” while well-intentioned, can harm your case.
  • Avoid getting into an argument about who is responsible for the attack.

When Is a Dog Vicious?

Recovering compensation after a dog bite in Atlanta in most instances requires proving that the dog was dangerous or vicious. What does it mean to say a dog is “vicious,” and how do you prove it to the insurance company or a jury? Georgia statutes provide some direction, and legal opinions from the courts in dog bite cases give further guidance. As a law firm that handles about 100 dog bite cases every year, the attorneys at Zagoria Law know full well the kinds of facts that establish a dog’s vicious propensities and what it takes to prove those facts in a court of law. If you’ve been injured by a dog bite in metro Atlanta, call Zagoria Law at 404-653-0023 for a free consultation with our experienced, dedicated and successful team of Atlanta dog bite lawyers.

Showing Vicious Behavior Not Always Required After an Atlanta Dog Bite Injury

Section 51-2-7 of the Georgia Code holds animal owners liable for injuries caused by a “vicious or dangerous animal of any kind” if the owner was careless in managing the animal or allowed the animal to roam free. But it should be noted at the outset that whenever local law requires dogs to be on a leash or at heel while out in public, if the dog was not at heel or on a leash when the bite occurred, you do not have to otherwise prove the dog was vicious. The law creates an exception to the vicious requirement when owners fail to follow a local leash law. See our page on Georgia leash laws for information about leash law ordinances in Fulton, Gwinnet and De Kalb counties, as well as Georgia’s Responsible Dog Ownership Law.

Must Prove Owner Knew Dog Was Vicious

Even when it has been shown that the dog was in fact vicious or dangerous, proving the owner knew it is still an essential element of a dog bite lawsuit. Georgia law imposes a duty of care on dog owners with respect to the management and restraint of an animal with vicious or dangerous propensities. This requirement is part of the common law, which requires knowledge of vicious or dangerous propensities to hold the owner liable.

This part of Georgia dog bite law is commonly referred to as the first bite rule, meaning if the dog has bitten before, then the owner is on notice that the dog is dangerous. This rule does not require a literal bite, however. As long as there has been at least one incident that would cause a reasonably prudent person to believe that the dog is dangerous, the courts will consider the dog vicious and hold the owner liable for injuries if the owner was negligent in managing the dog and a bite or attack occurred.

Juries Decide if a Dog Was Vicious

If the case goes to trial, it will be up to the jury to view the evidence and decide whether the dog was vicious. In one case, a couple’s adult son moved into their home with his pit bull Rocks. On day one, Rocks growled and snapped at the man’s mother while she was trying to feed him, and later that day Rocks barked and snapped at a neighbor who was visiting. A week later the neighbor’s wife entered the yard while Rocks was outside his pen but on a lead. She approached the dog and extended her arm, and Rocks bit her arm and latched onto it. She slipped and fell trying to get away, and Rocks bit and latched onto her leg when she did so.

At trial, the defendants tried to say that Rocks’ growling and snapping on his first day at a new location showed he was adjusting to an unusual situation and his actions didn’t show a dangerous propensity. But the bite happened a week later, when Rocks should have adjusted. This left the issue of the dog’s vicious propensity to be determined by the jury.

Some courts have held that snapping is evidence of menacing behavior, but that might not be enough if there have been no previous attacks on people or animals. Other courts have held it is reasonable to infer that snapping is an attempt to bite. Some courts have found viciousness in a dog lurching in an attempt to bite. Other courts have said that prior jumping on or lunging at raises a question for the jury about the owner’s knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensity. Proving your case requires a thorough knowledge of all applicable case law and how it applies to your dog bite injury.

What Is Provocation for a Dog Bite?

Section 51-2-7 of the Georgia Code states that animal owners may be liable for injuries caused by their animals, provided the animal is considered to be vicious or dangerous, the owner was careless in managing the animal or allowed it to go at liberty, and the victim did not provoke the injury. Provocation is in the law as a complete defense: if the victim provoked the injury, then the owner is not liable.

Provocation is written into the statute, but it isn’t defined. It turns out that provocation is a difficult concept, and courts can wrestle with it in a given situation. But that doesn’t keep dog owners and their insurance companies from alleging it every time. If the insurer is trying to avoid liability by saying you or your child provoked the attack, you need a strong attorney on your side who is knowledgeable about Georgia dog bite law and has handled enough cases to know when defendants have strong provocation defenses and when they don’t.

Zagoria Law is the only law firm in Atlanta specializing in dog bites. We do 100 dog bite cases a year, including going to trial as necessary. Our lead attorney David Zagoria even teaches other attorneys about dog bite law and important concepts such as provocation. Rest assured that we will use all our years of experience and expertise in handling dog bite cases to get a successful result on your behalf and beat back any provocation defenses that don’t hold water. Call our office for a free consultation to discuss what happened to you or your family member and find out how Zagoria Law can help.

How Do Courts Decide Provocation in Dog Bite Cases?

Provocation is an issue that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. If the defense is alleging the bite was provoked by the injury victim, the court will look at all the evidence in the particular case to decide whether the bite was provoked or not. For instance, did the victim physically attack the dog in any way, such as hitting or kicking the dog or throwing something at it? Actions such as these are likely to be considered provocation. What if the victim was doing something to taunt or torment the dog or was chasing the dog? Actions like these could be considered provocation as well, although the court would need to look at all the circumstances surrounding the incident to decide.

On the other hand, actions such as simply approaching the dog or its owner should not be considered an adequate provocation to provoke a bite. Being seated near a dog and suddenly getting up is not provocation even if a sudden movement causes the dog to snap or bite. Doing something that causes a dog to react and bite is not the same thing as doing something to provoke a bite. An experienced dog bite attorney will know the difference and will not let dog owners escape liability when they should be held responsible.

What about interacting with the dog, such as reaching out to pet it or patting it on the head? It’s always better to ask the owner first, especially if the dog is a stranger. If the owner consents, a prudent first step is to let the dog see and smell your hand and keep your hand in the dog’s sight when giving it a pet. However, doing all these things, even without asking first, have been held by various courts not to constitute provocation sufficient to relieve a dog owner of liability for the bite.

Who Is Liable for a Dog Bite Injury?

Section 51-2-7 of the Georgia Code makes it clear that a person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal can be held liable for injuries to another person caused by the owner’s careless management or by allowing the animal to go about unrestrained. Many elements must be proven in a dog bite case, including whether the dog was vicious or dangerous under the law and whether the owner was negligent. But if these factors are present, then the owner of the dog can be held liable to pay money damages to the dog bite victim.

Oftentimes, in fact most of the time, a dog bite victim is someone who knows the dog or the dog’s owner. Most dog bite victims are a friend, family member or neighbor of the owner. This fact can make the victim reluctant to bring a claim against the owner, fearing the owners will be forced to pay out of their own pockets or that they will be hurt or offended, damaging or ruining the relationship between them.

As a law firm that specializes in dog bite cases and handles around 100 dog bite cases every year, the attorneys at Zagoria Law can tell you that a dog bite claim does not have to hurt your relationship with your friend, neighbor or family member. And it shouldn’t cost them anything, either. We’ll explain how below, but keep in mind that if you or your child has been bitten by a dangerous dog, you are the one incurring significant expenses and suffering that could continue for some time. You shouldn’t have to shoulder this burden because of a bite that happened through no fault of your own.

Call Zagoria Law after a dog bite in Atlanta, and let us discuss with you how we can help you get the care and compensation that you need and deserve.

The Owners Is Liable, but Insurance Pays

Anyone who owns a home probably has homeowner’s insurance, and a renter likely carries renter’s insurance. These policies not only cover property damage but also provide liability protection if the owner is responsible for an injury to another on the property. These policies cover dog bite injuries to a guest or other person, even if the attack happens off the homeowner’s property. Some people carry umbrella insurance policies or general liability insurance as well.

While nobody likes having to file an insurance claim, that’s what it’s for. It’s there to protect homeowners from liability claims, and that’s why they’ve paid to have that insurance. These policies typically cover all medical expenses and damages up to $100,000, so you don’t have to worry about the policyholder having to pay out of pocket except in the most severe and costliest cases. Also, these policies typically don’t have deductibles or co-pays like car insurance or health insurance does, so it shouldn’t cost the dog owner anything to have their insurance cover the claim.

Most likely, the owner feels as bad or worse about the incident as you do. If they value their relationship with you as you do with them, they shouldn’t have any problem with you filing an insurance claim to recover the costs and compensation for your injuries. They will probably be glad they have that insurance and that it can be used to help you recover.

Find an Attorney Who Will Help, Not Hurt

At Zagoria Law, we are known for being compassionate with our clients and aggressive with the insurance companies. Yet we are only as aggressive as we need to be to make sure your claim gets paid fully, timely, and successfully. We don’t go out of our way to vilify or demonize the dog or its owner, and we only file a lawsuit if that’s the best or only way to resolve your case. When we can settle amicably for a fair amount, that’s what we do, and our unparalleled level of experience and expertise in Georgia dog bite cases helps us negotiate an adequate settlement that meets your needs. A less experienced attorney might make mistakes that delay or hurt your case or create an antagonistic relationship that doesn’t need to be there.

What Kind of Compensation Is Available for a Dog Bite?

Dog bites can cause all sorts of physical and psychological trauma, some of which can last for years or be permanent. It’s important for dog bite victims to maximize the compensation they can achieve after a dog bite injury. Doing so helps them recover physically and emotionally to the maximum extent possible while also giving them the resources they need to put their lives back together and move on from a devastating injury or loss. Finally, recovering all possible compensation holds negligent dog owners as fully responsible as possible for their carelessness or mistakes and deters future negligence and injury to others.

Zagoria Law is dedicated to helping dog bite victims in Atlanta get the best result possible after being bitten or attacked by a dangerous or vicious dog. The firm handles more dog bite cases than any other law practice in Atlanta and has amassed a great deal of knowledge and experience that can help get you the best result in your case. For a free consultation about your Atlanta dog bite injury claim, call Zagoria Law at 404-653-0023.

What Are “Damages”?

Damages is the legal term used to refer to money given as compensation for an injury. Damages in an Atlanta dog bite case can be general, special, direct or consequential.

General damages are the kinds of harm that are presumed to follow any tortious act, including a dog bite injury. General damages for a dog bite will often include harm such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, diminished quality of life, or shortened life expectancy. They are recoverable without proving a specific amount, although they are often tied to special damages and calculated in settlement negotiations as a multiple of the special damages suffered. Otherwise, a jury can decide how much in general damages to award if the case goes to trial.

Special damages refer to the direct economic costs and losses suffered by the victim in the particular case. After a dog bite, the victim will likely incur doctor or hospital bills, and they may have missed work and lost wages or income. They might also have property damage such as damaged clothing or jewelry, and they could find themselves disabled from working at their previous job or earning the same salary or wages. Losses like these can be recovered as special damages after a dog bite; they must be specially alleged and proven to be recovered in court.

The distinction between direct and consequential damages explains the difference between damages that occur immediately after the attack (lost wages, medical bills) and those that occur later because of the injury (future medical expenses, diminished earning capacity, disability).

Can I Get Punitive Damages After a Dog Bite Injury in Atlanta?

Georgia law allows a jury to award additional damages to deter a wrongdoer from repeating bad behavior if the facts show aggravating circumstances in the person’s acts or intentions. Also, Georgia law authorizes punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, in cases of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish or deter a defendant.

According to Georgia’s punitive damages statute, punitive damages can be awarded where it is proven “by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” There is no limitation on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded if it is found that the dog owner acted or failed to act with the specific intent to cause harm. Otherwise, punitive damages are capped at a maximum of $250,000.

For example, a dog owner who trains the dog to attack humans, commands the dog to attack, or does not call off an attack, could be liable for punitive damages. Proving these facts by “clear and convincing evidence” requires meeting a higher standard than other aspects of the case that must be proven. Although it can be more difficult and take more time to prove punitive damages, our team at Zagoria Law will go the extra mile to prove punitive damages in appropriate cases.

Wrongful Death Damages – The Full Value of the Life of the Deceased

Dog bites and attacks kill dozens of people every year. Whether the death occurred immediately after the attack or later because of the injuries incurred, Georgia’s wrongful death law allows the spouse, parent, or child of the victim to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner. If a case can be successfully proven, the family can recover damages equal to the “full value of the life” of the deceased. Although the statute leaves this phrase undefined, it is interpreted as meaning damages such as the lost wages or support the person would have provided, along with the loss of their companionship, care, affection, etc. While it can be hard to quantify damages like these, we’ll make an effort to build a strong case that brings needed financial support along with a measure of justice for the family of the deceased.

Additionally, Georgia law authorizes the personal representative of the estate to claim other damages, such as medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and the pain and suffering endured by the victim before death. We can represent individual plaintiffs as well as the estate in a wrongful death action to recover the appropriate legal damages.

Help Is Here After a Dog Bite Injury in Atlanta

Attorney David Zagoria has a vast amount of courtroom knowledge and experience in criminal law and personal injury, so he is intimately familiar with legal concepts such as self-defense and provocation. On top of that, he handles more dog bite cases than any other lawyer in town. David and his team at Zagoria Law are the ones to count on when your dog bite case involves complex legal and factual issues such as whether the attack was provoked, especially when the victim was a young child.

If you or your child has been injured by a dog bite in metro Atlanta, call Zagoria Law at 404-653-0023 for a free consultation about your case. We won’t charge any fee unless we are successful in winning your case.

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