I Was Bitten by a Dog. What Should I Do?

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bit by dog what to do

Dog bites are an all-too-common cause of injury in Georgia, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reporting more than 4.7 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs annually. More than 800,000 dog bites require medical attention and 400,000 necessitate emergency room treatment. About half of all dog bite victims are children between the ages of 5 and 9. They and the elderly are especially vulnerable to dog bites and more likely to suffer serious injury in these encounters.

People saying, “I was bitten by a dog – what should I do?” should know there are immediate steps you can take for your own health, as well as important things to know about the state’s dog bite law and recent judicial precedent.

Depending on the circumstances, most personal Atlanta dog bite personal injury claims for damages are going to involve proof of negligence by the dog’s owner, handler or owner of property on which the bite occurred. The Insurance Information Institute found both the number of dog bite claims and amount of damages paid by homeowners’ insurers for those has steadily risen for more than a decade, with the average cost-per-claim (nationally at $37,000) having jumped 90 percent since 2003.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

As noted by the Cleveland Clinic, a bite from a dog usually involves the animal’s front teeth grabbing and compressing your tissue, sometimes tearing it. The result is a jagged, open wound (or multiple wounds) that often require medical attention.

The No. 1 risk after a dog bite is infection, given that 50 percent of dog bites introduce harmful bacteria to human victims. Emergency medicine physicians say these infections can be severe, requiring hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. That’s why anyone bitten by a dog needs to see a primary care physician within eight hours of being bitten, regardless of whether they plan to take legal action against the dog’s owner. The longer you wait, the higher the infection risk, particularly if you are immunocompromised or have diabetes.

In some cases, stitches or even surgery could be required if the wound is deep enough.

Another reason to seek prompt medical attention has to do with preservation of key evidence in a subsequent civil claim. A delay in seeking medical treatment for a dog bite wound could be enough for a defendant to assert your injury wasn’t as serious as you claim or that there was some other intervening cause.

Report the Dog Bite to Animal Services

After receiving medical attention, you will want to report the bite to authorities.  This not only warns authorities and the greater public of a possible health risk, it also helps preserve your legal claim to damages. Even if you have no intention of filing a lawsuit, your report could be critical evidence for the next victim if the dog ever bites again (keeping in mind that even if your injuries were minor, the next victim may not be so lucky).

For Atlanta dog bites, reports can made to the Fulton County Animal Services. An animal services officer will report to the scene, generate a report and possibly cite the owner. The dog will likely be temporarily quarantined and may be labeled dangerous, imposing certain restrictions to reduce public safety risk.

You should obtain a copy of the county incident report to give to either your insurance or share with your Atlanta dog bite injury attorney.

Owner of dogs deemed potentially dangerous may be required to:

  • Register the animal with the state;
  • Ensure the dog is securely restrained both inside and outside;
  • Keep the animal muzzled in public;
  • Warn people of potential danger on their property with signs;
  • Maintain dog bite liability insurance.

Seek Compensation for Georgia Dog Bite Injuries

Most dog bite injury victims aren’t compensated for their injuries – but only because most fail to take proper legal action. An experienced dog bite attorney in Atlanta can help you weigh your legal options and determine how best to proceed.

Dog bite injury liability will depend on whether you can prove the animal was dangerous (and the owner knew or should have known it) and whether violation of local leash ordinance played a role.

O.C.G.A. 51-2-7 holds that an owner or keeper of a vicious or dangerous animal can be liable for someone else’s injuries, assuming the victim didn’t provoke the dog and the animal was either carelessly managed or allowed to roam free. Dogs are generally presumed to be harmless animals (regardless of breed), but in proving a dog’s vicious propensity, it’s enough for plaintiff to show the animal by government ordinance to be on a leash but wasn’t. (The City of Atlanta requires all dogs be on a leash while in parks, trails and public spaces.) Provocation as a defense is determined on a case-by-case basis.

In 2017, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a precedent-setting ruling in favor of a dog bite victim that made it easier to establish a dog’s viciousness. In Steagald v. Eason, the state high court held that if a dog had previously snapped at someone – but not actually bitten them – that could be enough to prove the owner knew he or she had a vicious animal on their hands. Essentially, it means Georgia dog bite victims don’t need to show there was a prior, obvious bite, recognizing that a “snap” is nothing more than a bite that missed its target.

The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta dog bite attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at steve@aa-legal.com.