Liability of Landlords for Injuries on Leased Residential Premises in Georgia


December 30, 2014

If you are attacked by a dog while delivering takeout food to a lessee in a rented apartment, you may incur significant economic hardships like ambulance and hospital bills, lost income and other expenses. While the tenant who owns the dog can be liable for dog bite injuries, a residential tenant might not have adequate insurance or assets to pay a judgment or settlement. The property owner will usually have more extensive insurance coverage and assets than a residential lessee. Unfortunately, the owner of a residential property generally is not liable for dog bites inflicted by a tenant's dog, but there are exceptions.

Courts in a number of states permit dog bite victims to pursue financial compensation from landlords who know the dog is dangerous where the landlord has the authority to have the dog removed. To this point, Georgia has not adopted this position. The Georgia Court of Appeals decision in Younger v. Dunagan provides an example of how Georgia courts have dealt with the issue of landlord liability for dog bites involving a tenant's dog.

In this appellate court case, a postal worker suffered injury as he tried to flee from the tenant's dog while delivering the tenant's mail. Younger filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the tenant and landlord. The trial court decided the case in favor of the landlord, and Younger appealed.

The appellate court upheld the trial court based on OCGA §44-7-14. This provision provides: "Having fully departed with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant; provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair."

The public policy upon which this statute and the Younger decision are based involves the landlord's lack of possession and control over the premises. The theory is that the tenant who owns the dog has the exclusive right to control and possession of the premises under a residential lease, so the tenant should bear financial responsibility for losses experienced by the dog bite victim.

Although this rationale might make some sense, the argument can be made that the landlord does have the ability to prevent a dog bite. The landlord could use a lease agreement that does not permit the tenant to have a dog. Alternatively, the landlord could prohibit certain breeds or forbid keeping a dog on the premises that has a past propensity for viciousness. The current rule essentially insulates the landlord from liability even if the landlord knows the dog is dangerous. When a tenant is judgment proof, an injury victim might be left with no viable source of recovery.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Claim

Dog bite law can raise complex issues, so you should seek prompt legal advice if you or someone close to you is injured by a dog. Our injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and in the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

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.