I told you in my first and second posts on this topic that the traditional rule in Georgia was the “first bite rule” and that rule was often viewed as a “one free bite” rule. I have also discussed how that rule has changed over recent decades.
One rationale behind the traditional “one free bite” rule was that the owner of a dog should not be blamed for an unforeseen and unforeseeable act of an animal. Proof of prior knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensity” should be required before holding an owner responsible for injuries caused by the animal.
Recent court decisions, while upholding the rationale behind the traditional Georgia rule, have moved toward softening the application of it. Recent decisions have tended to replace the traditional rule with a new rule that places a duty on the owner to take “reasonable steps” to protect the public from a dog if the owner has “superior knowledge” of the dog’s vicious tendency even if the dog has never bitten in the past.
These recent court decisions have focused less on requiring the injury victim to prove a prior similar incident or attack and more on the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressive temperament. Thus in recent years we have seen a relaxing of the traditional requirement that the injured person prove a prior similar incident.
Another avenue injured persons have used to hold an owner liable for injuries caused by a dog is a legal theory called “negligent undertaking.” The reasoning behind this theory is that if an owner voluntarily agrees to restrain a dog and then fails to do so properly and an injury results, the owner can be held liable even if there is no evidence of “vicious propensity or a violation of a leash law or ordinance.
Dog bite cases are very fact specific – by which I mean the outcome depends a great deal on many facts that are discovered after date of the bite itself as the case moves forward. The cases that interpret Georgia’s dog liability statute can be difficult to apply to a given set of facts.