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Georgia Court Discuses Availability of Punitive Damages in Recent Dog Bite Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia dog bite case requiring the court to determine if the lower court was proper to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims seeking punitive damages from the defendant dog owner. Ultimately, the court concluded that the facts gave rise to a material issue regarding the dog owner’s knowledge of her pets’ propensity for dangerousness and whether her actions on the day of the attack showed a conscious indifference to the safety of others.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was taking her son’s dog to the neighborhood dog park. The dog was a five-pound Yorkshire terrier. When she arrived, she noticed the defendant and her two larger dogs were already in the fenced-in park. The plaintiff asked the defendant if she was going to leave soon, and the defendant just shrugged.

A few minutes later, the defendant started to put her dogs on their leashes. However, as she opened the gate to exit the dog park, the two large dogs got away from her control and ran toward the plaintiff’s dog. The plaintiff’s dog was killed as a result, and the plaintiff was seriously injured. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, seeking punitive damages.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages, citing a lack of knowledge on the defendant’s part that the dogs had ever caused injuries in the past. The plaintiff presented testimony from a neighbor of the defendant, who explained that the dogs had tried to attack him one time in the past, and had he not taken evasive action, the dogs would likely have seriously injured him. The court determined that this was not sufficient to show that the defendant had knowledge of the dogs’ dangerousness because they did not actually attack the neighbor. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court explained that, as a general matter, the issue of whether punitive damages are appropriate should be resolved by the jury. It is only when there is no evidence of recklessness or conscious disregard that a court should intervene and dismiss the case. Here, the court held that the defendant’s actions could be sufficient to support an award for punitive damages, and a jury should be the ultimate decision maker regarding the claim. The court also explained that, under Georgia’s “one bite rule,” a dog need not actually injure someone in order to put the owner on notice of the dog’s propensity for dangerousness.

Have You Been a Victim of a Dog Attack?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to an aggressive dog’s attack, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia dog bite case. At McAleer Law, we represent victims in a wide range of personal injury cases, including dog bite cases. We work closely with our clients to ensure that they are kept informed and involved throughout the process. To learn more, and to speak with a dedicated Georgia personal injury attorney, call 404-622-5337 to schedule your free consultation today.

See More Posts:

Georgia Appellate Court Discusses How Conflicting Testimony Should Be Handled by Lower Courts, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, March 9, 2018.

Georgia Court Affirms Teacher’s Immunity in Recent Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, March 14, 2017.