Dog Bite Liability Laws in Virginia

Jun 7, 2024 | Pierre Prialé
Dog Bite Liability Laws in Virginia

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a dog bite incident in Virginia, you may wonder about your legal rights and options. Dog bite cases can be complex, and understanding the liability laws in your state is essential for ensuring you receive the compensation you deserve. When you hire a Virginia dog bite lawyer, they can help you understand dog bite liability laws and provide valuable information to help during this challenging time.

Never assume you know your rights under dog bite laws, as these can be complex legal principles. To ensure you seek compensation from the proper parties through the right channels, always schedule a free case evaluation with a Fairfax, VA dog bite attorney as soon as possible.

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Understanding Dog Bite Liability Laws in Virginia

In Virginia, dog bite liability is governed by statutory and common law principles. Under Virginia Code § 3.2-6540, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for any injuries or damages caused by their dog biting or attacking another person, either on public or private property. This means that the burden of proof is on the defendant to demonstrate that they were not negligent in preventing the attack.

However, it's important to note that this strict liability applies only to dog bites and does not extend to injuries caused by other types of dog-related incidents, such as jumping or knocking someone down. In such cases, the injured party will need to prove negligence on the part of the dog owner.

Proving Liability in a Dog Bite Case

A soft focus image of a cute white and brown dog playfully biting its owner's hand. This behavior can be dangerous and may pose a risk of rabies infection, highlighting concerns for animal and human health care.

To establish liability in a dog bite case, the victim must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant owns the dog and is responsible for the bite.
  • The bite occurred either on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property.
  • The victim did not provoke the dog.
  • The victim suffered injuries or damages as a result of the dog bite.

It's important to gather as much evidence as possible to support your case. This includes taking photographs of the injuries, documenting any medical treatments or expenses, gathering witness statements, and obtaining the dog owner's contact information. When you hire a dog bite attorney, they can help with all of these tasks. They will know what evidence is valuable in your case and how to collect it.

Defenses in Dog Bite Cases

While Virginia imposes strict liability on dog owners for dog bites, there are a few defenses that may be used by the alleged at-fault party to avoid liability. These include:

  • Trespassing: If the victim was trespassing on the dog owner's property at the time of the incident, the dog owner may argue that they are not liable for the injuries sustained.
  • Provocation: If the victim provoked the dog, such as by teasing or taunting, the dog owner might argue that their dog was provoked and, therefore, not liable for the resulting injuries.
  • Knowledge of aggressive behavior: If the dog owner can demonstrate that they had no reason to believe their dog was aggressive or had a propensity for biting, they can avoid liability. However, this defense is often challenging to prove.

Understanding Dog Bite Liability in Virginia

Virginia follows a strict liability rule when it comes to dog bite cases. This means that dog owners are held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of whether the owner knew or should have known about the dog's propensity to bite. In other words, the owner is liable for any harm caused by their dog, even if the dog has never shown aggressive behavior before.

What is the "One Bite" Rule?

Unlike some states that require evidence of prior aggression or viciousness, Virginia does not have a "one bite" rule. Under this rule, a dog owner is only held liable for injuries caused by their dog if the owner has previous knowledge of the dog's dangerous or vicious tendencies. In Virginia, the dog owner can be held responsible for the first dog bite incident without any history of aggression.

Strict Liability vs. Negligence in Dog Bite Cases

A sign that reads "No Dogs Allowed."

As mentioned earlier, Virginia follows strict liability rules for dog bites. But what is the difference between strict liability and negligence?

Strict liability means that the dog owner is held responsible for any injuries caused by their dog, regardless of their knowledge of the dog's aggressive tendencies or any negligence on their part. In other words, the owner can be held liable even if they had no reason to believe their dog would bite someone.

On the other hand, negligence requires the victim to prove that the owner was negligent in controlling their dog or preventing the bite from occurring. This typically involves showing that the owner knew or should have known that their dog had aggressive tendencies or had bitten someone in the past.

Seeking Compensation for Dog Bite Injuries in Virginia

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog in Virginia, you may be entitled to various forms of compensation. These may include:

  • Medical Expenses: The costs associated with your initial medical treatment, ongoing care, medications, therapy, and rehabilitation should all be considered when seeking compensation.
  • Pain and Suffering: A dog bite can cause significant physical pain and emotional distress. Compensation may be awarded for the pain and suffering endured as a result of the attack.
  • Lost Wages: If the dog bite caused you to miss work or decreased your earning capacity, you may be entitled to compensation for lost income.
  • Disfigurement and Scarring: Dog bites can often lead to permanent scarring and disfigurement. Compensation may be available for the physical changes and resulting psychological effects.
  • Emotional Distress: The emotional impact of a dog bite can be long-lasting. Compensation may be sought for psychological trauma, anxiety, depression, and other related conditions.

Injuries Caused by Dog Bites

Dog bites can cause a wide range of physical and psychological injuries. The severity of the injuries depends on various factors, including the size of the dog, the strength of the bite, and the location of the attack. Here are some common injuries caused by dog bites:

Physical Injuries

  • Deep puncture wounds: Dog bites can result in deep puncture wounds that may require stitches or other medical interventions.
  • Fractures: The force of a dog bite can cause bone fractures, especially in vulnerable areas such as the hands and legs.
  • Nerve damage: Dog bites can injure nerves, leading to pain, numbness, or loss of sensation in the affected area.
  • Infections: Dog bites are prone to infections due to the bacteria present in a dog's mouth. Immediate medical attention is necessary to prevent infection.

Psychological Injuries

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Victims of dog bites may develop PTSD, experiencing anxiety, flashbacks, and nightmares related to the incident.
  • Emotional distress: Dog bite victims may suffer from emotional distress, such as fear, depression, or a fear of dogs.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention after a dog bite to treat the physical injuries, document the incident, and gather evidence in case you decide to pursue legal action.

Who Pays for Dog Bite Injuries?

A dog bite from a sick animal can transmit the rabies virus.

Determining who is responsible for compensating dog bite victims in Virginia can be difficult. Virginia follows the "one-bite rule," which means that the owner of a dog may be held liable for injuries caused by their dog if they had prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities. However, proving the owner's knowledge of the dog's aggressive behavior can be challenging.

In addition to the owner's liability, other parties may share responsibility for the dog bite injuries, depending on the circumstances. These parties may include:

Property Owners

If the dog bite occurs on a property owned by someone other than the dog's owner, such as a landlord or property manager, they may be held liable for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the dog bite incident. For example, if the property owner had prior knowledge of the dog's aggressive behavior and failed to take appropriate action, they may be held responsible for the injuries.

Keepers or Guardians

If someone other than the owner was responsible for taking care of the dog at the time of the bite, such as a dog walker or a dog sitter, they may also be liable for the injuries. Proving their negligence or knowledge of the dog's dangerous behaviors is crucial in holding them accountable.

Others Negligent Parties

In some cases, parties other than the dog's owner or keeper may be responsible for the dog bite injuries. For example, suppose a dog bite occurs at a public place where proper safety measures were not in use, or a veterinarian negligently handled the dog. In that case, they may be held accountable for the injuries.

The Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Cases in Virginia

You need to take prompt action if you've been a victim of a dog bite in Virginia. The state has a statute of limitations that restricts the time you can file a lawsuit. In most cases, the deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit for a dog bite in Virginia is two years from the date of the incident. Failing to file within this time frame may result in losing your right to seek compensation.

However, there are some exceptions to the statute of limitations. For example, if your claim is against a government entity, the statute of limitations may be shorter. But, if the victim is a minor or the injuries weren't discovered until later, the statute of limitations may be paused. By discussing your dog bite claim with an attorney, you can better understand the deadlines that might apply to your case. This will help preserve your legal rights after suffering a dog bite.

Steps to Take After a Dog Bite

A male Alabai dog bit a man's hand. The man's hand is now bandaged. This highlights the importance of animal care and rabies prevention.

If you or a loved one is bitten by a dog in Virginia, take the following steps to secure your rights:

  • Seek medical attention: Your health and well-being should be a priority. Get immediate medical attention for your injuries, even if they seem minor. Some severe injuries, such as internal bleeding or organ damage, may not have immediately noticeable symptoms.
  • Identify the dog and its owner: Try to gather information about the dog and its owner, such as the owner's name, contact information, and any relevant details about the dog's breed or appearance.
  • Document the incident: Take photographs of your injuries and the location where the dog bite occurred. If there were any witnesses present, collect their contact information as well.
  • Report the incident: Notify the local animal control or law enforcement agency about the dog bite incident. This will help ensure that the authorities are aware of the incident and can take appropriate action.
  • Consult with a dog bite attorney: Be sure to seek legal advice from an experienced dog bite attorney. They will know the next appropriate steps to take and help you understand your rights and options for seeking compensation.
  • Remember to act promptly and consult a legal professional to protect your rights and maximize your chances of a successful outcome in your dog bite case. Understanding the dog bite liability laws in Virginia and taking the proper steps can help you seek the compensation you deserve.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a dog bite in Virginia, seek legal representation to protect your rights and ensure you receive fair compensation. Dog bite cases can be detailed, and having an experienced dog bite lawyer by your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

A qualified dog bite lawyer will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, collect valuable evidence supporting your claim, negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, and, if necessary, litigate the case in court. They will fight for your rights and pursue the maximum compensation available under the law.

Don't hesitate to contact a Fairfax, VA personal injury attorney to schedule a free consultation. Virginia dog bite lawyers are ready to listen to your story, answer any questions, and provide the guidance and support you need during this difficult time.

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Pierre Prialé Author Image

Pierre Prialé

Over the course of his career, Prialé has handled approximately 2,000 criminal defense and traffic cases, including DUI, reckless driving, weapons charges, and personal injury cases. His dedication to helping clients in difficult and desperate situations has earned him a reputation for being a committed and knowledgeable attorney.

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