The New York Times published an interesting
article on injuries from dog bites yesterday. A study found that the number of
dog bite injuries requiring hospital admission nearly doubled during a 15 year period. From 1993 to 2008, the number of people hospitalized from serious bites grew from 5100 to 9500.
Groups most often hospitalized were children under five and people over 65. Rural areas had a greater number of bites than non-rural areas. The study also found that while the number of those hospitalized rose sharply, it was not accompanied by a corresponding rise in the population or a notable increase in dog ownership.
Georgia law provides for "one free bite," meaning the dog owner is not liable for his dog's bite if the dog had not bitten before and the dog was properly leashed at the time of that bite or attack. If the owner is in violation of Georgia's leash law and the dog attacks a person, the dog owner is almost always automatically liable to the victim, regardless of whether the dog has attacked or bitten in the past. However, if the victim has prior knowledge of a dog's propensity to attack or bite, and is bitten while the dog is properly restrained (on a leash or on the owner's property), the dog owner would likely not be liable.
Obviously dogs can inflict horrific injuries. Permanent and disfiguring scars are often results of dog attacks. Children are especially vulnerable to dog bites and attacks as well as being susceptible to psychological trauma after being bitten. I suspect the rise of hospitalizations from severe dog bites may be due to more people owning "status" dogs (Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, etc.) A recent survey of the most dangerous dog breeds
has Pit Bull Terriers topping the list for 2010. Mail service in several Dayton, Ohio neighborhood even had to be halted because the
mail carriers were being repeatedly bitten by aggressive dogs
Keep in mind that any dog of any breed can be dangerous and unpredictable. I currently have more dog bite/attack cases than I've ever had before but not all of them involve dog breeds which have a reputation for aggression. As a general rule, it's probably best to avoid unknown and unleashed dogs, and to teach children how to safely interact with friends' and relatives' dogs.
Scott M. Williamson
of The Williamson Law Firm helps those injured by dog bites and handles other personal injury cases throughout Georgia.