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Dog Attacks and Your Legal Rights

Posted by attorney Darren Tobin

Every year, more than 4.7 million people across the United States suffer injuries as a result of a dog attack. Of those attacks, almost 800,000 bites are severe enough to require medical attention. That’s almost 1 out of 6 victims. And nearly 368,000 victims of dog attacks, almost 50%, are sent to hospital emergency departments every year.

Owners of dogs, regardless of the breed of dog, can be held responsible when their dog bites or attacks someone.

Why Dogs Attack

The following list identifies some of the more common reasons a dog will choose to attack:

  • Dominance aggression: aggressive behavior usually directed to family members who take something from the dog, pet it, hold it, pick it up, or disturb it while it is resting.
  • Defensive or fear aggression: directed to family or strangers who approach too quickly or too closely when the dog is afraid.
  • Protective/territorial aggression: directed to strangers to approach the owner or the home of the owner.
  • Predatory aggression: directed to small, quickly moving animals and children, especially where more than one dog is involved.
  • Pain-elicited aggression: directed to family or strangers who approach or touch when the dog is in pain or injured.
  • Punishment-elicited aggression: directed to family or strangers who hit, kick or verbally assault the dog.
  • Redirected aggression: directed to family, strangers and animals who approach or touch the dog when it is aggressive in another context.

Your Legal Rights Following a Dog Attack

Your right to recover for a dog bite will depen upon either the dog’s history and/or the leash laws applicable in the county or city where the dog attack occurred. Variations in the leash laws for dogs can have a significant impact on your recovery. Most states make dog owners liable for all dog bites even if the dog had never attacked before. A minority of states observe the "one-bite rule" which shields a dog owner from liability unless he knew that it tended to bite, or caused the bite negligently or intentionally, or violated a leash law or other animal control law.

The laws governing dog bites in the State of Georgia are a little tricky.OCGA 51-2-7 governs dog bites. To hold the owner of the dog liable, an attacked victim needs to prove either that the dog owner violated a leash law or that the owner knew his dog was dangerous and had a propensity to attack. Many counties have leash laws which impose strict liability on owners if their dog attacks. If the dog attacks and the dog was supposed to be on a leash, then the local ordinance has been violated and the owner is responsible.

Who is Responsible for a Victim's Injuries

Obviously, the owner of the dog needs to be held accountable for his dog's attack. Typically, the dog owner's homeowner's insurance will help pay you for your bills and your pain and suffering. But before you settle, it generally takes months to completely assess the person’s injuries. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary and the injuries may leave the person permanently disabled even after corrective surgery. Therefore, the true value of a claim can only be assessed after a doctor has met with the victim and determined the best course of treatment.

Regardless of why a dog attacks, the reality is a dog attack is never acceptable. A dog attack is a shock and it can result in devastating damage. The first thing to do, as in any other case where someone suffers an injury, is seek medical attention. Focus on getting better and then consult with an attorney who you trust and who can help you.

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