Earlier this year, Attorney Chase Swanson appeared before the
Georgia Supreme Court to fight for the rights of an 11-year-old boy who was attacked when an
off-duty K-9 police officer failed to keep her dog restrained. In June,
the Court delivered its opinion which unfortunately held that the officer
was immune from suit.
The incident occurred in 2011, when the police officer failed to secure
the dog’s kennel in the back of her personal truck. After the dog
escaped, it chased down a neighborhood boy and attacked him in his friend’s
yard. As a result of the bite, the young boy suffered several puncture
wounds to his arm and required emergency medical attention. While the
wounds ultimately healed, scars from the bite remain visible, and the
boy suffered serious anxiety thereafter.
Georgia law holds most dog owners responsible for injuries caused by their
dogs when they are not restrained properly. O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 states
“A person who owns of 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.”
Consequently, the father of the injured child brought a legal claim against
the police officer for negligence. The police officer’s attorneys
argued that she couldn’t be held responsible because of “official
immunity.” In Georgia, government officials are generally shielded
from liability for negligence claims made against them. However, if a
specific department policy or other statute mandates particular action
in a particular situation and the employee fails to comply, immunity may be lost.
Attorney Swanson fought these arguments at every level and was successful
in doing so at both the trial court and Georgia Court of Appeals. Those
courts agreed that in this situation, the officer shouldn’t be immune
from suit because the aforementioned statute and several local leash laws
required the officer to keep the dog restrained. However, recently the
Georgia Supreme Court issued its ruling in which those opinions were overruled.
The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that Georgia’s dog bite laws
are not specific enough to overcome a K-9 handler’s official immunity.
As a result, future innocent children and adults alike will have no recourse
if a police K-9 handler negligently allows their dog to run loose and
it hurts someone.
So if you live near a police officer with a K-9, know that they can and
do sometimes get loose, they can and very well may attack you or your
family, and you will have no recourse under Georgia law as it currently
stands. There is no insurance to cover it, and the officer will not be
personally held responsible.
Attorney Swanson will be working with local legislators in an effort to
make changes that will hopefully prevent this from happening again, or
at least provide a means of recovery for those unfortunately attacked
like in this situation.