Court Addresses Punitive Damages in Georgia Dog Bite Case

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a Georgia dog bite lawsuit. The case required the court to discuss the availability of punitive damages in certain Georgia personal injury lawsuits.

The plaintiff was a mail carrier who suffered serious injuries after a large dog attacked her during her route. According to the court’s opinion, on the day of the accident, the plaintiff needed to deliver packages to the dog owner’s front door. As she approached the door, the dog owner’s youngest son came out of the front door to accept the packages. When the mail carrier was returning to her vehicle, she heard the young boy exclaim “no,” and saw the dog was near her leg.

The 60-pound dog bit the plaintiff’s leg, and although she was able to kick him off her leg, the dog latched onto her arm. The dog owner’s older son heard the commotion and came to help pry the dog’s jaws open, at which point the dog finally released the woman’s arm. The woman called emergency personnel, who discovered various other bites on her body. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the homeowner, and a jury awarded her personal injury and punitive damages. The dog owner appealed, arguing that the woman was not entitled to punitive damages.

Under Georgia law, punitive damages are only available in cases where the plaintiff proves by “clear and convincing evidence” that the at-fault party exhibited “willful misconduct, fraud, malice, wantonness, oppression or conscious indifference.” Conscious indifference means that the defendant showed intentional disregard for the rights of the plaintiff. Essentially, plaintiffs must prove that there were circumstances of “aggravation or outrage.”

In this case, in addition to her testimony, the plaintiff provided evidence from another delivery driver, who the dog attacked about two years before this incident. That time, the dog was wearing a shock collar, but nevertheless charged at the delivery driver and made contact with his leg. The dog owners asked to take pictures of the driver’s bite, but he declined and the family did not make any further attempts to contact the driver. However, animal control issued the family a warning as a result of the attack.

A former neighbor also testified, explaining that one time as she was walking on her street, the dog suddenly approached and bit her. The neighbor and family went to “dog bite court,” and the court issued citations against the family and mandated that they no longer allow the dog out of the house without a leash, and required that they create a confined space to keep the dog. Despite this evidence, the family contended that the delivery driver was the first person that the dog ever bit, however, they did not obtain any additional training for the dog, and instead, put up a “beware of dog” sign on their property.

The court considered various evidence including, the dog’s two prior vicious attacks, the dog’s apparent aggressive temperament, and the fact that the family left the dog alone with their young son to manage while he was in a knee brace. Ultimately, the court found that the defendant’s conduct on the day of the accident showed the requisite conscious indifference that could warrant punitive damages.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Georgia Dog Bite?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries because of a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. The Atlanta personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law have extensive experience handling various types of personal injury lawsuits, including, work injuries, medical malpractice, slip and falls, and Georgia dog bite cases. Our attorneys understand that these terrifying experiences can have life-altering consequences on victims, and we work tirelessly to ensure that our clients recover the damages they deserve. Contact our office at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Georgia injury attorney at our law firm.

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