A Guide to Dog Bites and Personal Injury Law in Virginia
Most people interact with at least one dog almost every day. In the United States alone, more than 90 million people have a pet dog, making it highly unlikely that you could leave your house and not at least pass one by while taking a walk or getting into your car to go to work. Many of us are drawn to the neighborhood dogs. After all, they do share the moniker of “man’s best friend”. However, not all dogs are domesticated, and even those that are can suddenly become sick or agitated. When this happens, dogs may bite or injure in some other way. Before this happens to you, it’s important to be informed about personal injury law as it pertains to dog bites in Virginia.
What are the Dog Bite Laws in Virginia?
Virginia differs from many states in that they do not have any statutes or code specifically targeting dog bites or other harm caused from a dog. Instead, they have something called the “one bite rule”. What this essentially means is that owners are only held responsible for injuries caused from their animal if the victim can prove that the owner had previous knowledge of their dog biting, or otherwise causing injury, to another person on a previous occasion. This would imply that the owner should have taken proper precautions with his/her dog, as history had indicated there might be a problem.
This rule applies not just to bites but to any aggressive behaviors, such as snapping, jumping, lunging, etc. The owner of the dog can also potentially be held responsible for any additional injuries that are incurred by the victim. For instance, if a dog jumps on the victim and causes them to fall and hit their head, requiring stitches, the owner may be held liable, even if the dog did not actually bite. An attorney specializing in personal injury law would best be able to help you determine if your case fits within the necessary parameters.
How is Virginia’s Law Different From Other States?
Most other states have something called “strict liability” which means that the owner of a dog can potentially be held responsible for a dog’s aggressive behavior, even if that dog has not shown tendencies of that aggressive behavior in the past. This is substantially different from the “one bite rule” in Virginia, stipulating that the owner must have had prior evidence of the dog’s aggressive behavior before being held liable for any damages that might be pursued under personal injury law.
Am I Out of Luck if the One Bite Rule Doesn’t Apply in My Situation?
This can be a complicated question, and the short answer is—not necessarily. Regardless of whether the dog in question has ever bit or had other aggressive tendencies toward anyone before, if the owner can be proven negligent, they may still be held liable for the dog’s behavior. In a case such as this, it would have to be proven that the dog’s owner had a duty to restrain the dog, but for whatever reason, chose not to or did not.
Negligence “per se”, similar but not quite the same as plain negligence, can also be an avenue under which a dog owner can be held liable under Virginia personal injury law. Basically, if the dog’s owner is violating another law at the time of the dog’s attack, they could potentially be held responsible. For instance, if the owner is walking the dog in an area of a city that requires dogs to be on a leash, and the owner has violated that law, resulting in the dog having the ability to attack, then they may be held liable.
Are There Conditions Under Which the Dog Owner Might Not be Held Responsible?
Of course, any final outcomes would be determined by the court, but there are some general defenses a dog owner could present. One of the most common of these is something called contributory negligence, which contends that the victim contributed in some way to the attack. For instance, a person deliberately provoking a dog, or continuing to pet the animal even after the dog has growled or backed away, or the owner has repeatedly asked them to stop. If the person is determined to be responsible for their own injuries, it is highly unlikely they will be awarded any damages.
What Type of Damages Can I Expect to Receive If I Win?
Each winning case will differ in the amount and type of damages awarded, however the victim does have the ability to sue for a variety of damages, including lost wages. They can also sue for medical costs related to their injuries. This includes physical therapy, if needed. In addition, they can also sue for scarring and disfigurement, permanent disability, and emotional trauma caused by the attack. Remember, personal injury law is complex, and it is best to consult an attorney specializing in this area.
What Else Do I Need to Know About Personal Injury Law and Dog Bites in Virginia?
The old adage that “you don’t know what you don’t know” holds true in this case. There are many factors that impact your ability to successfully sue for damages if you suffer a dog bite. Why take a chance that you might miss an important deadline or risk making a mistake that could jeopardize your chances to be reimbursed in some way for the trauma you endured? Instead, consult an experienced personal injury law attorney that can provide the knowledge and advice you need to navigate the system.
If you are interested in learning more about hiring an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable about personal injury law in Virginia, please contact Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. at (703) 361-1555 today. We can provide a comprehensive consultation as well as all the information you need to make the best decision for your personal injury law needs.