As stated on another page, the Georgia dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog if the dog injures a person while it is without a leash or not at heel, in violation of a local ordinance. Here are ordinances that, if violated, shall result in strict liability on the part of the dog owner:
Cherokee County Code:
Sec. 10-55. Animal control generally. At large.
(a) It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal, or anyone having an animal in his possession and custody, to allow it to run at large unattended on or about the streets and highways of the unincorporated and incorporated limits of the county, or on the property of another person or of the person in possession of such property, except for dogs being used in hunting in accordance with state game and fish department laws, rules and regulations.
Sec. 10-55. Animal control generally. Restraint and control.
(f) Every animal shall be restrained and controlled so as to prevent it from molesting passersby, chasing vehicles, or attacking persons or other animals.
Sec. 10-68. Dogs to wear collar, identification tag and vaccination tag; exceptions.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any owner of a dog to allow such dog to run at large without a collar, which shall have attached a valid vaccination tag as required by the laws of the state and an identification tag showing the name and address of the owner of the dog.
Woodstock Municipal Code:
Sec. 14-41. Running at large prohibited; leash required.
Any person owning or having custody of a dog within the city shall be required to confine such dog on the premises of the owner, or on the premises of some responsible person authorized by the owner. Dogs shall not be permitted to run at large on any streets, alleys or any other place in the city other than the premises of the guardian or owner of the dog while in the presence of the guardian, owner or other competent person authorized by the owner, except on a leash not more than six feet long and in the care of a competent person.
Sec. 14-42. Duty to keep animal under restraint while on property.
It shall be the duty of every owner of any animal, or anyone having any animal in his possession or custody, to ensure that it is enclosed by way of a fence or other enclosure or is restrained by a chain or leash or in some other physical manner so that it cannot wander off of the real property limits of the owner, possessor or custodian. It is the intent of this section that all animals be prevented from leaving, while unattended, the real property limits of their owners, possessors or custodians thereof. Failure to comply with this section shall be unlawful and shall be punishable as provided in section 14-43.
Code of Ordinances, City of Atlanta, Georgia, Sec. 18-61. Applicability to portion of city within DeKalb County.
(a) Generally. The following shall apply to that portion of the city within DeKalb County:(1) Duty of owner to keep dog under control. It shall be unlawful for the owner of any dog or for any person having a dog in such person’s possession and control to permit the dog to be out of control and unattended off the premises of the owner in that part of the city within DeKalb County or upon the property of another person without permission of the owner or person in possession thereof. (2) Definition of dog under control. A dog is under control if the dog is controlled by a leash, is at heal or is beside a competent person and obedient to that person’s commands or is within a vehicle being driven or parked on the streets or is within the property limits of the dog’s owner.
Fulton County Code of Ordinances, Sec. 34-205. Running at large.
(a) Generally. Within the unincorporated area of Fulton County or within any municipality in Fulton County which has or may enter into an agreement with Fulton County for animal control services, the running at large of dogs, domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, dangerous, or potentially dangerous dogs is prohibited, with the exception of cats. Owners of wildlife or exotic animals must have the necessary state and/or federal permits on their person when transporting their animals.
(b) (1) Dogs. It shall be unlawful for the owner, custodian or harborer of any dog to allow or permit such dog to leave the premises of the owner or other person having custody of the dog unless such dog is securely under leash; said leash being not more than six-feet long, and under the control of a competent person. Dogs must be confined to the premises of the owner or other person having custody of the dog and shall be restrained by means of a fence or wall or other enclosure, or restrained individually by a leash or chain. Excluded are those dogs participating in or training for obedience trials, field trials, dog shows, tracking work, or law enforcement. Also, the requirements of this subsection shall not apply in any area zoned for agriculture where the owner or person having custody of the dog is at the time in question using the dog for hunting purposes, and has on his/her person a valid hunting license and proof of vaccination. (2) An electronic confinement system shall be considered an acceptable enclosure when the equipment is properly maintained and in continuous working order, and the animal to be contained within wears the appropriate electronic collar when within the system perimeters. (3) In cases where an animal has been deemed dangerous by the court, or has been trained to be a guard dog, an electronic animal confinement system may not be used as either the primary or secondary enclosure. (4) Individuals who contain an animal by means of an electronic animal confinement system and are found to be in violation of this section or have been deemed as restraining a dangerous animal shall thereafter restrain the animal by means of a fence, wall or other enclosure, or such animal shall be restrained individually by a leash or chain.
(c) Restraint of domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife and exotic animals. It shall be unlawful for the owner, custodian, or harborer of any domestic animal, livestock, wildlife, or exotic animal, to allow or permit such animal to leave the premises of the owner or other person having custody of such unless securely under leash, in a carrying case, or restrained by some other means and under the control of a competent person, with the exception of cats.
(d) Confinement of domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, and dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs. Domestic animals, livestock, owned wildlife, exotic animals, and dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs shall be securely confined to the premises of the owner or other person having custody of such by means set forth under the provisions of this article, or approved by the health department or its designee and/or as required by state or federal regulations, with the exception of cats.
The Espinoza case – violating an anti-chaining ordinance
Espinoza v. Morel (2023, Court of Appeals, A22A1653) is an important decision holding that the violation of an anti-chaining law satisfies the requirements of the ordinance exception which is built into OCGA section 51-2-7. In other words, that the violation establishes knowledge of viciousness and triggers liability under the vicious animal statute.
Socorro Espinoza was attacked by defendants’ dog Teddy. She was then defendants’ backyard giving Teddy water while he was tethered. There was no evidence that would satisfy the one bite rule. Summary judgment was given to the defendants in the Court of Appeal reversed. “This method of restraint violated a local ordinance.” (Opinion, page 2.) The trial court made a finding that the defendants were in violation of the anti-chaining law. On that basis, Espinoza was granted partial summary judgment, but the court denied her second motion for partial summary judgment, holding that an issue of material fact existed as to whether the defendants had knowledge that the dog had a propensity for viciousness. Building on that, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that they did not have that knowledge, and the trial court granted the defendants’ motion.
The appellate court noted that the vicious animal statute, OCGA section 51-2-7, establishes that the violation of an ordinance requiring a dog to be at heel or on a leash satisfies the knowledge requirement of the one-bite rule. (Opinion, pages 4.-5.) In this case, the defendants violated an anti-chaining law. “[The defendants] chose to unlawfully tether Teddy on a single-line tether while unsupervised in violation of [the anti-chaining ordinance ]. . . . Since Teddy was not restrained in accordance with the requirements of the [anti–chaining law], the dog is deemed to have a ‘vicious propensity’ under the second sentence of OCGA section 51-2-7, and the plaintiffs had no burden to show that Teddy had actually shown any prior tendency to bite or attack.” (Opinion, page 7.)
The court also held that Espinoza was required to prove that the defendants knew that the dog was tethered.
“Espinoza could prove scienter by showing that the owners were aware of the manner in which Teddy was restrained and by showing that such manner of restraint violated an applicable government leash ordinance. Espinoza has done this by pointing to direct testimony from both defendants that they knew that they left Teddy alone for a long weekend, they knew he was tethered to a single-point line, and they knew that their back yard was not fully fenced-in.” (Opinion, page 10.)
It can only be hoped that the decision will remain intact if it is appealed to Georgia’s Supreme Court. The vicious animal statute eliminates the need for knowledge of wrongdoing if the defendant violates a regulation requiring a dog to be kept close or restrained by a leash. However, in the Espinoza case, the defendants violated an anti-chaining regulation, which essentially mandates the ethical treatment of dogs that are restrained. There is a clear distinction between promoting animal care as opposed to promoting public safety. The best argument in support of the decision might be that correctly and humanely securing a dog actually enhances public safety, as shown by the overwhelming statistics suggesting that chaining a dog makes it dangerous to people. Consequently, the ordinance on which Espinoza relied merely establishes a guideline for properly restraining a dog on a “leash,” and therefore, breaching that standard must be considered within the boundaries of OCGA section 51-2-7, the vicious animal statute.