As recently as the turn of the 21st century, most dog bite victims did not aggressively pursue these claims. They simply were not worth very much money. So, a lawyer might send a demand letter and then settle the case for pennies on the dollar.
But the world has changed a lot since the Dan Reeves-led “Dirty Bird” Falcons went to the Super Bowl after the 1998 season. The average dog bite settlement amount has increased 94 percent since that time. Much of that increase is due to better understanding and treatment of dog bite injuries, as outlined below.
Today, Marietta personal injury attorneys aggressively pursue these cases. Today’s insurance company lawyers defend these claims just as aggressively. They are no longer willing to simply write a check and get it over with. Therefore, if you were injured in an animal attack, get ready for a legal fight.
Dog Bite Injuries
Perhaps even more than other kinds of personal injury cases, such as car crashes and medical malpractice incidents, dog bites cause incredibly deep physical and emotional wounds. A successful recovery depends on top-flight medical assistance as well as extensive post-treatment therapy. Even then, these physical and emotional wounds often never fully heal.
Animal attacks usually involve several kinds of injuries. First, the dog lunges at the victim and knocks the victim down. This knockdown usually causes severe broken bones as well as head injuries. Knockdowns are especially bad if, as is often the case, the victim was a young child or older adult.
Next, at the risk of sounding gruesome, dogs sink their jaws into their victims. The deep piercing wounds often puncture internal organs, causing massive bleeding. Additionally, most dogs tear at their victim’s flesh. As a result, victims sustain massive trauma injuries which normally require extensive reconstructive surgery. Finally, physical therapists must work with most victims for many months before they regain lost functions.
All personal injury claims involve some emotional injuries. For example, car crash victims might avoid the intersection where the wreck occurred or not drive on highways. The emotional injuries in a dog bite case, however, are much worse. Many victims, especially children, suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms for many months after the bite. These symptoms include things like:
- Heightened awareness,
- An unnatural fear of all dogs,
PTSD is a physical injury to the brain, just like a broken bone is a physical injury to the body. Brain injuries like PTSD are always permanent. However, extensive therapy can reduce the symptoms.
First Party Liability in Animal Attack Cases
Aside from medical malpractice, dog bites are perhaps the most controversial area of tort law. Med mal reforms are a hot issue because insurance companies claim that greedy plaintiffs lawyers drive up medical costs for everyone else because they file frivolous lawsuits. There’s very little evidence to support that claim, but many lawmakers believe it anyway.
Animal attacks are much the same. The aforementioned injuries are real, and victims definitely need legal protection. But at the same time, most voters have pets.
So, Ga. Code Ann. sec. 51-2-7, or the Responsible Dog Ownership Law, strikes an uneasy balance between these two sides. This law basically codifies the common law one-bite rule. However, there is also an important addition. If they want to pursue a statutory claim, victim/plaintiffs in Cobb County have two basic options:
This claim is the classic one-bite rule approach. The victim must establish that the animal was vicious, the owner knew the animal was vicious, and the owner (or custodian) mismanaged the animal. Evidence of knowledge includes prior attacks or aggressive behavior, such as loud barking or lunging, right before the attack.
Ordinance (Negligence Per Se):
If the dog was not on a required leash or behind a required fence and the owner (or custodian) mismanaged the animal, the defendant may be liable for damages as a matter of law. There’s no need to establish knowledge.
These negligence claims may involve third-party liability as well. Consider the following common scenarios.
Assume Todd is a vet assistant. He knows Fido attacked another person a few months ago. Nevertheless, he does not restrain Fido because he believes the vicious-animal collar is inhumane. If Fido bites a customer while under Todd’s care, the veterinarian is probably responsible for damages. Todd was an employee who acted negligently during the scope of his employment.
Georgia also has a dog bite landlord liability law. Assume Fido’s owner lives in an apartment complex. If the owner knows that Fido is potentially dangerous and Fido bites someone in a common area, like a parking lot or courtyard, the landlord may be liable for damages.
Third-party liability theories like these are very important in dog bite claims. Many times, the dog owner has little or no insurance. So, it can be difficult for Marietta dog bite lawyers to obtain fair compensation for catastrophic injuries.
The Provocation Defense
People who are smarter than me say that word association reveals a lot about a person’s psychological makeup. That’s things like hole-dig and dog-cat. When insurance company lawyers hear “dog bite,” they immediately respond “provocation defense.” They try this defense in almost every claim, and it almost always fails.
Many people, especially pet owners, think that “provocation” means sudden moves or aggressive teasing. In a social context, that might be true. But in a legal context, it’s not true. Provocation is almost synonymous with torture. The defense usually does not apply unless the victim/plaintiff inflicted so much pain on the animal that it had to respond violently.
Provocation is an affirmative defense. Therefore, insurance company lawyers must convince the judge that there is enough evidence to support the defense and convince the jury that the victim savagely provoked the animal. One of these things is hard enough to accomplish. For both to work, the provocation evidence must be essentially overwhelming.
Contact an Aggressive Lawyer
Under a recent Georgia law, dog bite victims have many more legal options than they had before. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Home and hospital visits are available.