Ga. Code Ann. sec. 51-2-7 provides:
A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured. In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government, and the said animal was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated fowl including roosters with spurs. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated livestock.
OCGA 51-2-7 provides two ways that an animal owner (or handler) may be found liable for injuries inflicted by his animal:
- The scienter ground requires proof of three elements. Specifically, the victim must prove that the animal was dangerous or vicious, that the defendant had the requisite degree of knowledge (traditionally called “scienter”), and that the defendant either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go at liberty.
- The ordinance ground requires proof of two elements. The plaintiff must prove that the animal was not at heel or on a leash as required by a local ordinance, and that the defendant either carelessly managed the animal or allowed it to go at liberty.
It should be noted that the ordinance ground does not require any knowledge of dangerousness or viciousness. The second sentence of OCGA 51-2-7 eliminates that requirement. Johnston V. Warendh, 252 Ga. App. 674 (2001) (“the second sentence … creates liability based upon a violation of a local or county ordinance and requires no proof of scienter”).
To prove liability under the ordinance ground provided by OCGA 51-2-7, the victim must show that, in the words of the statute, “the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government.”
So, to prove liability under this statute, the claim can be based on either a violation of a leash law or the dog owner’s knowledge that the dog had the temperament or propensity to bite people.