Dec 29, 2023 Michael M. Day Law Firm

Is it True That Every Dog Gets One Free Bite?

Many people have heard the adage “Every dog gets one free bite.” That phrase is used as a way of saying that a dog owner won’t be held liable for a dog bite unless the dog has bitten someone before. So is that true? The answer is different depending on the jurisdiction where the bite occurs, and it can also depend on some other factors as well.

Dog bite cases can be complicated, so let’s examine some of the factors that can determine whether or not the owner is liable for harm caused by their dog or other animal.

Liability for Animals Considered “Vicious” or “Dangerous”

Section 51-2-7 of the Georgia Code makes the owner of an animal liable for injuries in certain situations if that animal is considered vicious or dangerous under the law. Liability extends not only to the owner of an animal but also to anyone who has custody of the animal, such as when someone watches a friend’s dog while they are on vacation.

So what causes an animal to be considered vicious or dangerous? That depends on the circumstances.

When a Dog is Supposed to Be on a Leash

If a dog bites or an animal causes any other injury in a town, county, or other jurisdiction where animals are required to be under control with a leash or “at heel” and the animal was not under this type of control, then the animal is automatically treated as vicious or dangerous. In this situation, the animal’s demeanor or past behavior doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that there was a leash law and the owner was not abiding by it at the time of the attack.

Other Factors That Can Cause a Dog to Be Considered Vicious or Dangerous

When a leash law is not a factor, Georgia’s “Dangerous Dog Control Law” could be of some guidance, even though that law is designed to penalize owners rather than provide remedies for bite victims. Under the definitions in Section 4-8-21, a dog is vicious if it “inflicts serious injury on a person or causes serious injury to a person resulting from reasonable attempts to escape from the dog’s attack.” 

A dog can be considered dangerous according to the statute in one of three ways:

  • If its teeth caused a “substantial” puncture of the skin
  • If it aggressively attacks in a way that causes a reasonable belief that the dog poses an imminent threat of serious injury
  • If it kills a pet while off the owner’s property

There are exceptions to the dangerous definition, such as the fact that a dog in training as a hunting dog will not necessarily be considered dangerous for killing an animal, and barking, growling, or showing teeth are not enough of an attack to make a dog dangerous. But these situations indicate that a dog can be considered dangerous even if has not bitten a human before. For instance, if a dog has charged at someone, that can be enough to indicate that a dog has dangerous propensities.

Any actions that indicate a dog could cause serious harm should put the owner on notice that they need to take extra precautions to ensure that the dog does not attack others. When an owner knew or should have recognized the risk, and they failed to restrain their dog properly, they can and should be held liable.

Exceptions to the Strict Liability Rule for Dangerous Animals

The statute that makes an owner strictly liable for the acts of a vicious or dangerous animal has some requirements and exceptions. First, the injury must have occurred while the animal was allowed to roam free or been enabled by the owner’s careless management. In addition, the person injured must not have taken action to provoke the injury. If someone hits a dog with a stick and the dog attacks in its own defense, that would probably be considered provocation.

Those are both standards that leave considerable room for interpretation. A skilled attorney can present arguments to show why any action by the victim was not sufficient to count as legal provocation and how an owner’s handling of the animal was careless. For instance, the victim may have hit the dog with a stick because the dog lunged and snapped first. Skillful presentation of the facts can help a dog bite victim recover compensation to cover medical bills, emotional trauma, physical pain, and other effects of the injury.

Look at Local Laws

Remember that a dog can be considered vicious or dangerous automatically if it is required by local law to be on a leash and is not. The ordinances of Decatur require an animal to be on a leash or obedient to commands if it is not restrained by a fence or inside a building. Atlanta and other areas are under the control of the leash laws of Fulton County, which require dogs to be confined by a fence or controlled by a leash. The laws specify that an electronic fence is not sufficient to meet the requirements if a dog has been classified as vicious or dangerous or deemed a nuisance on more than one occasion.

Local laws might also potentially give rise to additional liability as well. So, when considering liability for a dog bite, it is important to examine city and county ordinances, strict liability laws, and the general principles of negligence. An experienced attorney will be familiar with the application of all applicable legal principles that offer the potential for recovery.

Michael M. Day Law Firm, LLC Works to Secure Fair Compensation for Victims of Dog Bites

Dog bites and other injuries caused by animals often lead to much more serious harm than most people realize. They can lead to permanent disfigurement and debilitating physical and mental injuries that often never fully heal. If you or a loved one have suffered due to the actions of an animal that was not properly restrained, the team at Michael M. Day Law Firm, LLC is prepared to fight for compensation to offset all of the pain and other losses. To find out what your case may be worth, schedule a consultation with us today.