Swanson v. Tackling: A Georgia Dog Bite Case

Posted on: February 12th, 2016 by James Haug

Swanson v. Tackling: A Georgia Dog Bite Case

In a recent Georgia case, a seven year old boy was bit on the head by one of Defendant’s Great Dane dogs while he was visiting their home. He suffered serious and disfiguring injuries as a result. His mom filed a personal injury suit against the dog’s owners.

When the boy and his parents arrived at the home, they were introduced to the dogs who were behind a gate in another room. One of the dogs put her head over the gate barked in the young boy’s face. This made the mother nervous and she requested that the dog be kept away from her son, although she did not share this information with the owners. The next day, the young boy asked if he could give one of the dogs a stuffed toy. In an attempt to get the toy, the dog bit the boy’s arm. The boy began to scream and cry and when he bent his head down, the dog bit him. the dog’s owner testified that “prior to this incident, the dog had never bit, chased, jumped on, or even growled at anyone.”

The trial court ruled in favor of the dog owners on the grounds that there was no issue of material fact for a jury to consider because the dog had never displayed any vicious behavior or evinced a propensity to bite anyone prior to biting the boy. The appellate court agreed and ruled in favor of the dog owners.

In a dog bite case, Georgia law allows a plaintiff to recover based on a dangerous animal liability theory or a premises liability theory. However, in order to succeed, the plaintiff must show evidence that the dog had a vicious propensity in order to prove that the owner had superior knowledge of the danger. In order to infer this knowledge, there “must be at least one incident that would cause a prudent person to anticipate the actual incident that caused the injury.” Although the dog owner doesn’t have to be aware of the dog’s propensity to act in exactly the same way that causes the injury at issue, that previous incident must be the same type as the incident at issue. Finally, it is well settled under Georgia law that “a dog’s menacing behavior alone does not demonstrate its vicious propensity or place its owner on notice of such propensity.”

As mentioned, Georgia courts allow recovery under a dangerous animal liability theory or a premises liability theory. Also, if a person voluntarily undertakes to restrain a dog and fails to do so and an injury results, the owner can be held liable. In this case, there was no evidence that the mom asked the Defendants to restrain the dog or that they promised to do so. Therefore, while the Court was sympathetic with regard to the boy’s injuries, it had to rule in favor of the dog owners.

2016 WL 718465