Articles Posted in Animal Attacks

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.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case involving an insurance dispute. According to the court’s opinion, a woman suffered injuries while she and her husband were visiting their friend’s home to look at a pickup truck he owned. When the couple arrived, the truck’s owner moved the car about eight feet forward so that they could walk around and inspect the vehicle. The owner parked the car on an incline, placed it on neutral, and set the emergency brake. The owner asked the woman to pull the “hood latch” but warned her to avoid the emergency brake. However, the woman inadvertently pulled the emergency brake, and the vehicle rolled off and ran her over. The couple filed a lawsuit against the owner, alleging that the woman suffered multiple injuries and damages because of the owner’s negligence. The truck owner sought coverage under his homeowner’s policy; however, the insurance company denied coverage.

When an individual suffers injuries or damages in a Georgia accident, they may file a lawsuit against the at-fault party or a claim for damages with the other party’s insurance company. In many cases, the at-fault party’s insurance provider will try to deny coverage by pointing to specific terms in the insurance contract. Often this leads to undue delays and requires the injured party to endure a lengthy legal battle with the at-fault party or their insurance company.

In this case, the insurance company argued that in addition to other circumstances, their policy does not provide coverage for injuries that arise out of the “ownership, maintenance, use, or loading of motor vehicles.” The trial court found that the truck was in “use” when the accident occurred, because the parties were evaluating the vehicle’s operability and functionality. The appeals court found that there are ambiguities regarding the term “in use.”

An estimated 2 million attacks occur each year with only 800,000 documented. While some breeds have the tendency for more aggression than others, animal attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. Sadly, many victims are under 10 years of age and dog bites alone make up for most child emergency room visits due to an animal attack.

Further, most dog bite attacks happen at a residence or in a neighborhood. In many cases, the dog owner’s insurance may be used to cover monetary damages such as hospital bills and pain and suffering. This allows a victim to seek justice against an insurance company rather than the close friend or neighbor that owns the animal.

In general, a dog with no prior bites or attacks will not be held responsible. The “one bite” rule is rooted in the law of foreseeability, meaning the owner had no way of foreseeing the attack, because one had never happened in the past. However, when a dog owner violates a local ordinance regarding animal control, such as not having her dog on a leash, the owner may be found negligent by failing to follow a safety ordinance- even when there is no evidence of a prior bite.   Many insurance companies and rental agencies already ban certain types of dogs, like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers.

Trena Wells, an Illinois woman, went on a weekend trip to visit family, but ended up in the hospital with a permanent injury.

During the visit, her brother’s dog escaped from the house and was hit by a car. The dog, confused and in a rage, returned to the home and attacked Trena. Trena suffered puncture wounds, multiple fractures, and underwent several surgeries on her thumb’s nail bed.

She filed a personal injury lawsuit against the dog’s owner and has been awarded $140,000 by a jury. The Illinois Appeals Court later upheld the conviction stating that the owners lack of proper attention led to the dog’s original escape from the house.

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