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What Exactly Is ‘Vicious Propensity?’

One of the reasons that dog bite cases are so difficult to prove in Georgia is because the plaintiff has to prove something called ‘vicious propensity’. Simply stated, it must be proven that the owner of the dog knew, or should have known, that the dog could be dangerous to other people but did nothing about it. In some cases, like where the dog has a history of biting people, it is easy to prove. However, if the dog has no history, it can be an uphill battle proving vicious propensity.

What Proves Vicious Propensity?

In the case of Stennette v Miller, a home health aide tried to file for damages against her employer after being bitten by one of their dogs. The employer had multiple dogs, including a male bulldog. The first time the plaintiff went to the home, the male bull dog jumped on her but did not scratch or bite her. Following that, the plaintiff asked the dog’s owner to keep the dogs confined during her visits, which the owner agreed to do. On the date of the incident, as the plaintiff was arriving, several of the dogs snuck inside with her as she entered the house and one of the dogs, the male bulldog, bit her over 20 times.

In this case, in order to prove her claim, the plaintiff would have needed to show that the owner of the dog knew, or should have known, that the dog was likely to bite a stranger. The dog in question had never bitten anyone before, and because the dog was kept outside in the fenced back yard during the majority of visits, had never attacked the plaintiff before. Because of that, the Georgia Court of Appeals stated that the plaintiff hadn’t proven her case and could not recover damages against the dog’s owner.

So Can You Ever Win A Dog Bite Case?

While the whole ‘vicious propensity’ requirement may be difficult to get around, it is not impossible. Many dogs that are vicious enough to bite have done so before and animal control records can be subpoenaed to prove it. In addition, the strict vicious propensity requirement only really applies when the dog is inside the owner’s home. If the dog is outside in a public area, the owner had a higher duty to control it. Most dog bite cases happen when the dog is outside of the home, after it either escaped the residence or was not on a leash like it should have been. In these cases, it is much easier to prove dog owner negligence.

An attorney can look into a dog’s history for you and go over the different laws that might apply in your case. Frequently, more information will come to light as a dog bite case goes on that might make it easier to prove negligence on the dog owner’s part.

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