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.
The court explained that in civil cases between private parties, presumptions that authorize a judge or jury to find a fact through proof of other circumstances are not necessarily invalid. Further, the court explained that rebuttable presumptions with a rational connection between what is proven and inferred do not amount to a denial of due process.
Here, the defendants argued that the second portion of the statute creates liability based upon a violation of an ordinance and requires no proof of intent or knowledge of wrongdoing. The court reasoned that although neither sentence of the statute discusses the owner’s knowledge, it has found that an intent or knowledge requirement was carried over from common law, which presumes that dogs are a “harmless species.” Therefore, based on the statute’s history and text, when a local government passes an animal restraint ordinance, the second sentence displaces the presumption that a dog is harmless. However, the second sentence does not replace the requirement that plaintiffs must prove that the owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities. Reading the two sentences together, a plaintiff must still prove intent by showing that the owners had knowledge or knew the animal was unrestrained. Plaintiffs can accomplish this by citing a local government’s ordinance. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s Due Process challenge failed.
Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Dog Bite in Georgia?
If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of a Georgia dog bite, contact the attorneys at McAleer Law. Georgia animal attack cases require a thorough and nuanced understanding of complex tort laws, and our attorneys have both the training and experience necessary to bring these cases. We have recovered substantial compensation on behalf of our clients for their injuries and damages. Contact our office at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.