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Dogs and Car Accidents: When Unrestrained Dogs Cause Car Crashes

March 30, 2017

When we think about dog owners being responsible for the actions of their dogs, the scenario that most likely comes to mind is that of a dog biting or attacking a person. We have an image of aggressive dogs that someone has failed to train, or has mistreated resulting in the animal becoming dangerous, or even that the dog is just of a breed that might have aggressive tendencies. However, even a docile animal can cause injuries to people, even in an entirely unintentional way. When dogs run into the street, they can lead to car accidents, which in turn can cause property damage, and even injuries to humans.

So if you are involved in a car accident as the result of either hitting, or trying to avoid hitting a dog that ran into the street, who is liable? It might be the dog's owner. Many states have laws that state that dog owners must keep their pets either contained in a fenced in area on their property, or on a leash.

In the state of Georgia, the statute regarding "Liability of owner or keeper of vicious or dangerous animal for injuries caused by animal" can found below. 

O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 (2016)

§ 51-2-7. Liability of owner or keeper of vicious or dangerous animal for injuries caused by animal

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.

Disclaimer: Georgia state law will change. Be sure to review the most recent laws governing the State of Georgia here.

There are many reasons why we do not want dogs roaming our towns and cities - some dogs may bite, they will undoubtedly leave a mess, they could breed to the point of overpopulation, and of course, they could get into the roads and create driving hazards. If a dog owner violates one of these laws by letting their dog roam free, they could be liable for the resulting injuries. Additionally, if someone negligently lets their dog out, they can be liable for causing harm to a person who is injured as a result. Sometimes the accident is as simple as a car swerving to avoid a dog and hitting a tree, and other times a dog could run in front of a motorcycle causing the rider to lose control and become injured. The accidents in these cases are likely caused at least in part by the dog, and the owner could therefore be liable. The liability of the owner could be reduced in the event that the driver who hit the dog was speeding, texting, or driving negligently in some other way.

The question of who is at fault for an accident can become more complicated when the accident involves more than one car or vehicle. For instance, if a motorcyclist loses control after either trying to avoid hitting, or hitting a dog, and the driver behind then hits the motorcycle because they were too close behind the motorcycle and going too fast to stop in time, the motorcyclist could have been harmed both by the negligence of the dog owner, as well as the negligence of the driver of the car. The way this scenario would play out, and the way that the liability would be divided would depend on the specific facts, and on the law of the state in which the accident occurred.

Given the vast popularity of dogs as pets, and how often dogs can escape the control of their owners, collisions between dogs and cars are likely to continue to occur. If you find yourself involved in a car accident caused by someone's unrestrained dog, you should contact an attorney from Montlick & Associates for your free case review. Our attorneys will discuss all of your legal options for recovering damages as well as what's steps can be taken to protect your rights.  

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Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.