The “One Bite Rule” in Georgia’s Dog Bite Law

June 14, 2024

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year there is a one in 50 chance of being bitten by a dog. When they do occur, these incidents can cause serious injuries and emotional trauma that can scar you for life. Most attack victims are children who go on to develop a lifelong fear of dogs.

Dog bite victims in Georgia often have questions about the ‘one-bite rule,’ which plays a key role in determining liability as well as compensation. This rule essentially gives a dog one ‘free’ bite before the owner can be held liable, provided the owner had no prior knowledge of the animal’s aggressive tendencies. However, the application of this rule is more nuanced and requires a thorough understanding of its legal implications.

At Horst Shewmaker, we help dog bite victims understand their rights after suffering injuries in an unprovoked attack. In this blog, we clarify the one-bite rule, its application in Georgia, and what it means for those involved in dog bite incidents.

What is the One Bite Rule?

The one-bite rule is a legal principle that affects the liability of dog owners in dog bite cases. As stated previously, it allows a dog one “free” bite before its owner can be held liable for any physical injuries the dog causes. The idea is that a dog owner is not presumed to know their pet is dangerous if it has never bitten anyone. However, once the dog has bitten someone, the owner knows the pet’s aggression and can be held responsible for any ensuing bites or attacks.

In practical terms, if a dog with no history of aggression bites someone, the owner might not be liable for the first incident. However, if the dog has previously bitten someone or shown aggressive behavior, the owner is expected to take necessary precautions to prevent further incidents. Failure to do so can result in the owner being held liable for any harm caused by the dog.

The origin of the one-bite rule dates back to English common law, where it was assumed that every dog gets one bite before its owner is legally liable for its actions. This rule can be put into action with the help of dog bite lawyers in Georgia.

Application of the One Bite Rule in Georgia

Georgia dog bite laws are outlined in O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7. This statute stipulates the conditions under which a negligent dog owner can be held liable for injuries caused by their dog. According to the law, a dog owner can be held responsible if:

  1. The owner knew or should have known about the dog’s vicious tendencies.
  2. The owner carelessly managed the dog or allowed it to roam freely, contrary to local ordinances.

In Georgia, the one-bite rule is interpreted as part of the broader context of the state’s dog bite statute. Under this rule, a dog owner is not automatically presumed to be aware of their dog’s potential for aggression unless the dog has bitten someone before or demonstrated an aggressive nature. In other words, the owner is presumed to be aware of the dog’s danger if the dog has shown a vicious tendency even if that did not result in a bite. Here’s how this interpretation works in practice:

  • If a dog with no known history of aggression bites someone for the first time, the owner may not be held liable. This is because the owner had no prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies.
  • Once a dog has bitten someone or displayed a vicious tendency, the owner is aware of the risk posed by the dog. From this point on, the owner is expected to take reasonable measures to prevent the dog from causing harm. Failure to do so can result in the owner being held liable for subsequent incidents.
  • Even if a dog has never bitten anyone, the owner can still be held liable if they violate local leash laws or other ordinances designed to control pets. For example, if a dog is allowed to roam freely in an area where leash laws require it to be restrained, and it bites someone, the owner can be held responsible.

Understanding Georgia dog bite laws is essential for both dog owners and victims to ensure that the appropriate legal measures are taken following an incident.

Exceptions to the One Bite Rule

While the one-bite rule provides a framework for liability in dog bite cases, there are several situations where this rule may not apply. These exceptions are crucial for understanding how liability is determined beyond the first incident of aggression.

Aggressive Behavior or History of the Dog

One key exception to the one-bite rule involves a dog’s prior aggressive behavior. If a dog has previously exhibited signs of aggression, such as growling, snapping, or lunging at people, the owner is considered to be on notice of the dog’s dangerous tendencies. This history of aggression can lead to liability even if the dog has not bitten anyone previously. Courts will look at evidence of the dog’s behavior to determine if the owner should have known about the potential for harm.

Owner’s Knowledge of the Dog’s Tendencies

The owner’s awareness of their dog’s tendencies is key in determining liability. Even without a prior bite, if the owner knows or should reasonably know that their dog is prone to aggressive behavior, they can be held liable for any injuries the dog causes. Examples of situations that may indicate the owner’s knowledge include:

  • Previous Incidents and Complaints: If neighbors or visitors have previously complained about the dog’s aggressive behavior, their reports can show the owner was aware of the risk.
  • Training and Behavior Classes: If the owner has enrolled the dog in behavior modification or training classes to address aggression, this indicates an awareness of the dog’s tendencies.
  • Warnings and Signs: Displaying warning signs, such as “Beware of Dog” on the property, can be evidence that the owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensities.

Local Ordinance Violations

Violating local leash laws or pet control ordinances can also override the one-bite rule. If an owner fails to comply with these laws, they can be held liable regardless of whether the dog has a vicious nature. For instance, allowing a dog to roam freely in an area with strict leash laws can result in the owner being held responsible if the dog bites someone.

Responsibilities of Dog Owners in Georgia

Under Georgia’s Responsible Dog Ownership Law, dog owners have specific legal obligations to ensure their pets do not pose a danger to others. These responsibilities are designed to protect the public and prevent incidents such as dog bites. When a dog has been declared dangerous, key legal obligations include:

  • Registration: The owner must register the animal and receive a certificate.
  • Proper Containment: They must ensure that their pets are properly contained in a locked enclosure within their property. This includes maintaining secure fencing and gates to prevent the dog from escaping.
  • Warning Signs: The owner must post visible warning signs on the property, such as “Beware of Dog,” which can alert visitors to the presence of a potentially dangerous dog.

Preventing dog bites involves proactive steps by the owner to manage their dog’s behavior and environment. These measures include:

  • Socialization and Training: Properly socializing and training a dog from a young age can help mitigate aggressive tendencies. Enrolling in obedience classes and working with professional trainers can be beneficial.
  • Supervision: Dogs should always be supervised when interacting with unfamiliar people or animals, especially in public settings.
  • Health and Wellness: Regular veterinary check-ups can identify any underlying health issues that may contribute to aggressive behavior. Keeping a dog healthy and well-exercised can also reduce the likelihood of aggression.

If a dog bites someone and the owner is found to have been negligent in controlling the animal, they can be held legally liable for the victim’s injuries. This can result in significant financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In severe cases, an owner may face criminal charges if their failure to control a dangerous animal results in severe injury or death. 

Rights of Dog Bite Victims

If you have been bitten by a dog in Georgia, you have several legal options to seek fair compensation for your injuries. They include:

  • Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: You can file a lawsuit against the dog owner for negligence, especially if the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s aggressive tendencies.
  • Seek Compensation through Homeowner’s Insurance: Many homeowners’ insurance policies cover dog bite incidents. You can file a bite claim with the dog owner’s insurance company to recover damages.
  • Pursue a Claim under Local Leash Laws: If the dog was not properly restrained according to local leash laws, you might have a strong case for liability against the owner.

Victims of dog bites are entitled to seek compensation for financial losses, including:

  • Medical Care Expenses: This includes immediate medical costs such as emergency room visits, surgeries, and ongoing treatments like physical therapy and medication.
  • Lost Wages: If the dog bite causes you to miss work or miss out on earnings, you can claim compensation for lost income. This also includes any future earning capacity if the injury affects your ability to work long-term.
  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for pain and suffering addresses the physical pain and emotional distress caused by the dog bite. This can include anxiety, depression, and trauma resulting from the incident.

If you’ve been attacked and bitten by a dog, get medical treatment immediately, even if the injury seems minor, and document all medical visits and treatments. You should also get the owner’s contact information and notify local animal control or law enforcement about the dog bite, as an official report will be crucial for your case.

How an Alpharetta Dog Bite Lawyer Can Help

When you schedule a consultation, an experienced dog bite lawyer will begin by evaluating your case in detail. This involves reviewing the circumstances of the incident, the severity of your bite injuries, and any evidence you have collected. The lawyer will then provide you with legal advice on your options and the best course of action. They can explain the potential outcomes and help you understand the value of your personal injury claim, ensuring you are well-informed at every step.

Insurance companies often aim to minimize payouts, making it challenging for victims to get fair compensation. A dog bite attorney in Alpharetta will negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf, working to secure a bite settlement that covers all your damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. 

If a fair settlement can’t be reached, your personal injury attorney will represent you in court. They will prepare your case, present evidence, and advocate for your rights before a judge and jury. Having a skilled lawyer by your side increases your chances of a successful outcome, whether through settlement or trial.

Get a Free Consultation From an Alpharetta Dog Bite Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, don’t wait to seek the legal help you need- contact Horst Shewmaker as soon as possible. Let our experienced attorneys provide the guidance and support you need to cope during this difficult time and pursue justice for your bite injuries. To learn more or schedule a free consultation with an Alpharetta dog bite lawyer, call 404-400-1175 or contact our law firm online today.

Notes: Our team gathers information about accidents in Georgia from various external sources, including news reports, police reports, social media, and eyewitness accounts. The details of this specific incident have not been independently verified by our staff. If you find any inaccuracies in our post, please get in touch with Horst Shewmaker, LLC, and we will promptly correct or remove the content as needed.

Disclaimer: This post is not a business solicitation. It’s important to note that the information provided does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship. Legal outcomes vary depending on specific circumstances. For personalized legal assistance, please contact Horst Shewmaker, LLC directly. The featured image in this post is not from the actual accident scene.