Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an opinion addressing whether Georgia’s dog bite statute violates the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The facts indicate that a man was walking his leashed dog when another dog attacked him and his dog. The attack resulted in serious injuries to the man and fatal injuries to his dog. Before the attack, the dog was kept in the yard of a towing company, which was about 1,000 feet away from the plaintiff’s home. On the day of the incident, the dog escaped from the towing company yard and was not on a leash or under the control of his owners. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the towing company owners alleging that they were liable under OCGA section 51-2-7.
The relevant part of Georgia’s dog bite statute, section 51-2-7, provides that anyone who owns or keeps a vicious animal, and who by carelessness or allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injuries to another person, may be liable for any resulting damages. Plaintiffs who wish to pursue claims under this statute must prove that the animal had a vicious propensity. The statute specifies that plaintiffs can meet this burden by showing that the law required the animal to be at heel or on a leash, per a city, county, or government ordinance.
In this case, the defendants filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit the plaintiff from relying on the presumption of viciousness created by the statute. They argued that section 51-2-7 was facially invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The defendants maintained that the statute violated the Due Process Clause because it did not provide defendants with an opportunity to present rebuttable evidence that the animal had never previously shown a dangerous or vicious propensity.