Court Holds Jury Must Determine Whether Dog Had a “Propensity to Bite without Provocation” in Recent Dog Bite Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a case brought by a woman and her husband after the woman was attacked by a neighbor’s dog. The case, which was initially dismissed by the trial judge, required the court to decide if the trial judge was proper to make the determination that the dog did not have a propensity to bite without provocation. Ultimately, the court determined that this was a question that should have been reserved for the jury, and therefore summary judgment was inappropriate.

Dog's ProfileThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were neighbors with the defendants. About a week before the incident that gave rise to this case, the defendants’ son moved back in with the defendants and brought his dog, Rocks. Rocks was kept in a pen in the backyard, unless the defendants’ son was in the backyard. In Rocks’ first week with the defendants, he snapped twice at two different people as they tried to pet and feed him.

Later that week, the plaintiff was visiting the defendants when she gently extended her hand for Rocks to sniff her. Rocks lunged at her, latching onto her arm and causing the plaintiff to fall to the ground. After she fell, Rocks then latched onto her thigh. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the attack, and she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants, claiming that the dog attacked her unprovoked.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that there was no evidence that they knew that Rocks had a propensity to bite unprovoked. The defendants correctly noted that, in order to establish liability for a dog’s attack, the plaintiff must prove that the dog was vicious or dangerous and that the defendant had knowledge of the dog’s dangerousness. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the determination of whether the defendants had knowledge of Rocks’ dangerous propensities was an essential element of the claim that should be determined by the jury, rather than by a trial judge in a pre-trial motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs relied on the two incidents of snapping to prove the defendants’ knowledge that Rocks could be dangerous.

The court agreed with the plaintiffs and reversed the lower court’s decision. The court began its analysis by stating that all breeds of dogs are considered to be non-violent. However, if there is any evidence of any aggression, the plaintiffs can overcome this presumption. Here, given the two incidents of snapping, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to submit the case to a jury.

Have You Been a Victim of a Dog Bite?

If you or a loved one has recently been attacked or bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience representing clients in all types of personal injury matters, including dog bite cases. Call 410-654-3600 today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a dedicated personal injury advocate.

More Blog Posts:

Court Applies “Natural Accumulation” Rule in Affirming Dismissal of Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 23, 2017

Court Finds that Recreational Use Statute Protected City in Lawsuit Stemming from Baseball Game Injury, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 28, 2017

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