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Dog Owners - Beware!

Recently, a former high school classmate called wanting some legal advice. She told me that she was planning to lease her home to someone who owned a pit bull. She wanted to know if she would be on the hook if the dog attacked someone. My advice – you better believe it!

I went on to advise my friend (by the way this was free advice) that she should first avoid renting or leasing to vicious pet owners, or at the very least require that they obtain a general liability renter’s policy to cover any unfortunate events. I suggested that she require the tenant to get a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage. She was shocked.

I explained that our law firm has represented victims (most of them children) who have been attacked by various dog breeds, including bit pulls, rottweilers, doberman guard dogs and even a cat. In many of these cases, our clients were able to recover anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000 for their injuries.

While our firm represents victims of animal attacks, it is important that pet owners understand the legal risks assumed by man’s best friend. Georgia law basically follows the “one bite” rule that says that a dog owner is not liable unless it is shown that the pet owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensity, i.e. if the dog has never bitten anyone, then how is the master to know that the dog is dangerous. However, with many Georgians choosing to opt for dogs with bad reputations, such as pit bulls, rottweilers, bull mastiffs and filas – making the argument for dogs with a “dangerous propensity” is easier than ever.

Increasing the risk to pet owners is the fact that many homeowner insurance policies now exclude certain “vicious dogs”. That means that if your pet pit attacks little Patrice in the park, and your homeowner’s insurance excludes pit bulls, then you can be held personally liable for all of her injuries.

My advice – read your homeowners policy, make sure that there is no vicious pet exclusion. If there is exclusion, an optional endorsement may be necessary to cover your particular breed of pet.


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