Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Unleashing Georgia’s Dog Bite Liability


By: Carlos A. Fernández and Wayne S. Melnick

We have dogs. While we do not expect them to retrieve gold or tacos—although we would not oppose either—we would never expect them to retrieve us a personal injury lawsuit. They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but in Georgia’s courtrooms, that friend can be a plaintiff’s foe. Recently, the Court of Appeals of Georgia clarified what is needed to show a dog owner’s knowledge of their canine’s vicious propensities, in the process restating well-established Georgia law that there is no strict liability in dog bite matters. In this case, plaintiff’s neighbor’s dog jumped onto plaintiff and scratched his hand at a bonfire. Later, at that same bonfire, the dog attacked plaintiff when it bit him. The next day, the dog chased after plaintiff, who consequently tripped and injured his shoulder while running away from the dog (managing to avoid being touched by the dog).   

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because the owner knew of a prior event that should have made him anticipate the underlying attack. The Court of Appeals pointed to the two bonfire incidents and held these incidents gave the neighbor “reason to know of the dog’s propensity to do harm of the type which it inflict[ed].” The Court of Appeals clarified these prior instances need not be the “exact same conduct and the exact same injury,” but instances that would “cause a prudent person to anticipate the [lawsuit’s underlying] event.”  The grant of summary judgment was reversed because these two prior incidents may have placed the neighbor on notice of the dog’s viciousness.

In this legal landscape, where plaintiffs can seem like a dog with a bone, it is important for businesses and individuals to stay up to date about legal developments and potential liability. If you would like a copy of the Court of Appeals of Georgia’s order or for more information, please contact Wayne S. Melnick at, Carlos A. Fernández at, or your local FMG attorney.