Articles Posted in Dog Bite

In March, our Atlanta dog bite lawyers discussed a new bill, HB 685, aimed at clarifying definitions and increasing penalties for owners of dangerous and vicious dogs (see previous post here). This bill has now gone through the legislature and is waiting on a signature by the Governor before it becomes law.

Every year, 5 million people are bitten by dogs in the US, and about 800,000 of those bites are severe enough to require medical attention. So clearly this is a continuing problem. And even more alarming, most dog bites are from the pets of family or friends and about a half occur on the owner’s property. Naturally those that are too young or too old to fend off the attack are the most likely to get seriously injured. HB 685, also called the Responsible Dog Owners Act, is a step in the right direction, according to an opinion piece recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is certainly a good thing to have the definitions of “dangerous” and “vicious” dogs refined and unified across Georgia. Once classified, a dangerous dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless it is under the physical control of a person who can prevent the dog from engaging with another animal or human, or unless the dog is in a crate or cage. The higher, more threatening classification of vicious dog cannot be off the owner’s property without a muzzle and being under the physical control of someone, like above, or in a cage or crate. The owner may not have more than one vicious dog and must keep $50,000 of insurance on it. Judges also have the authority to authorize euthanasia for a vicious dog. dog bite.jpg

A team of experts created this latest legislation, headed by Rep. Gene Maddox, and took more than two years to tweak it and try to come up with the best way to incentivize good pet ownership and hold reckless and irresponsible pet owners liable for their dangerous dogs. Unfortunately it was not a totally smooth process, and some parts of the legislation were taken out. One part that was left out of the final version was a provision to sterilize a dog categorized as vicious. It is worth noting that more than 70% of reported dog bites are from non-neutered male dogs. But a lobbying group for dog breeders got that part thrown out. As with all things in politics, compromises must be made during the long legislative process. The bill, once signed, will still enhance and clarify Georgia’s current “dog bite” law.

On March 9, 2010, Erin Ingram, then an eight year old little girl, was nearly killed when she was attacked by two pit bulls owned by a neighbor. While luckily she did survive, the dog attack did costs her one arm and cause permanent injuries to the other. The criminal trial against the dogs’ owner, Twyann Vaughn, took place this past week in DeKalb County, Georgia State Court. She was charged with two counts each of reckless conduct, violation of the county’s vicious dog ordinance and failure to have the dogs immunized for rabies, all misdemeanors.

During a very emotional trial, the Jurors listened to the 911 call where Erin is heard screaming “Please get them off of me! Please help me. They’re hurting me. Please run them over!” Minutes later, a DeKalb County, Georgia Police officer is heard shooting one of the dogs in order to stop the attack. The Jurors also heard testimony from Erin’s father, Tommy Ingram, and the little girl herself. “I was screaming for help,” she told the courtroom. Did you see anybody else around, the prosecutor asked? “No.” What was going through your mind then? “That I was going to die,” Erin said.

Last Friday, the DeKalb County, Georgia Jury took a little more than 90 minutes to return a guilty verdict against Twyann Vaughn. The Jury found her guilty on all charges. Judge Dax Lopez then sentenced Vaughn to 16 months in jail and 36 months on probation. Prosecutors had asked for four years in jail. The maximum penalty was five years.

Last year, there were 31 fatal dog attacks in the U.S. Even when no death occurs as a result of a dog attack, victims often suffer damage that requires reconstructive surgery such as skin grafting, tissue expansion and scar diminishment, resulting in years of expensive surgical procedures. Unfortunately, the emotional criminal trial that Georgia dog bite victims like young Erin Ingram go through will in no way result in any compensation for them for the devastating injuries that they sustain. Monetary compensation can only be accomplished through a civil proceeding, in which case victims need to retain a personal injury attorney familiar with OCGA § 51-2-7, Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute.

Under Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute, a victim may recover for his/her injuries in one of two ways.

The first way that a victim may recover is if they could prove that the Dog’s owner violated what is commonly known as the “scienter ground.” The scienter ground is met if the victim can prove: (a) that the animal was dangerous or vicious; (b) that the defendant knew that the animal was dangerous or vicious (traditionally called “scienter”); and, (c) that the dogs’ owner either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to roam freely.

The second way that a victim may recover under Georgia’s Dog Bite Statute is they can prove that the Dog’s owner violated what is commonly known as the “Ordiance Ground”. The ordinance ground requires proof that: (a) the animal was not at heel or on a leash as required by a local ordinance, and (b) that the dog’s owner either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to roam freely.

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