Child Injury – Dog Bites – Georgia’s Misunderstood “One Free Bite” Rule

(This is Part 2 in a 3 Part Series on children and Georgia dog bite law.You can read Part 1 here, and Parts 3 and 4 here and here)

Georgia’s historic “first bite rule” didn’t mean quite what it sounds like. Though it may sound as if a dog had to have actually bitten a person in the past in order for an owner or keeper to be liable for injuries, that is not how the rule worked. What an injured person had to prove was that the animal had demonstrated a propensity to do the particular act that caused their injury.

The prior incident did not have to involve identical acts as the acts that led to the later injury. But there did have to be evidence of vicious propensity and the evidence that was required was a prior incident or incidents which would put a prudent person on notice to anticipate the event which occurred (the later injury).

Interestingly, if a dog is part wolf or other wild animal, there is a different rule. In that instance there is legal authority for holding the owner or keeper strictly liable – which means the owner/keeper is responsible regardless of the animal’s past history.

Another interesting tidbit is that since a cat is a domestic animal, cat bites or attacks are governed by the same set of rules as a dog.

Now back to discussing dogs! An owner or keeper is not liable if the dog has bitten or attacked a person in the past but that bite or attack was provoked by teasing or other actions that incited the dog to attack. Obviously young children some times do not know how to act around a dog and do things that the dog may respond to with fear.

This Public Service Announcement is a good training tool to use with children and should help them to know what NOT to do when they meet an animal.

Next time I post I will get into the relaxing of the traditional “one free bite” rule both by amendment to the Georgia Dog Liability Statute and case law developments over the last several decades.

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