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Virginia Dog Bite Injury Laws

Dog bites can be painful, scary and, in some cases, traumatic. The weeks and months following a dog attack can be just as difficult. Many victims find themselves confused about their rights, the legal duties of the dog owner, and the compensation to which they may be entitled.

Here’s our primer on Virginia’s dog bite laws, including guidance on liability and per se negligence claims:

Virginia’s “One Bite” Rule

This rule aims to hold pet owners legally responsible for the violent actions of their dogs. If a dog owner knows that their pet has bitten at least one time in the past, they can be held liable for the damages caused in subsequent attacks.

In other words, if Fluffy got into trouble for biting a neighbor last year, his owner must take necessary precautions to prevent additional attacks from occurring. Should Fluffy bite again, his owner will likely be held responsible for the victim’s medical bills. This is because the owner knew of the dog’s violent tendencies but did not take action to prevent additional attacks.

Negligence Per Se

Even if a dog doesn’t have a violent past, negligent owners can still be held responsible for the damages their dogs cause. Victims may sue for compensation so long as they have evidence that the owner failed to control their pet.

For instance, if you’re at the park and are attacked by a dog whose owner has let it roam off the leash, you may have a viable claim. The decision to allow the dog off the leash in a place with strict leash requirements demonstrates the owner’s negligence.

Legal Duties of Virginia Dog Owners

Virginia law is clear about the roles dog owners play in preventing attacks:

  • Owners must prevent dogs from wandering off property unrestrained. While leash law ordinances vary from city to city, all dog owners are expected to keep control of their pets in public places.
  • Dog owners must monitor their pet’s behavior and intervene if they believe an attack is about to occur.
  • Owners must educate themselves on their dog’s mannerisms and behaviors. If their dog’s breed has a propensity towards violence, they must take precautions to prevent bites and attacks from occurring.

Virginia’s “Dangerous Dog” Definition

Virginia state law provides a definition of a “dangerous dog.”

“Dangerous dogs” are canines that have bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal.

Once determined to be a dangerous dog, the owner has strict requirements to maintain liability insurance and faces liability for any subsequent injury to a person attacked by that dog (with few narrow exceptions such as criminals entering the dogs home.)

Virginia Supreme Court Decisions

The Virginia Supreme Court has issued two decisions regarding dog attacks and the ability of a victim to recover:

In 1967, in the Butler case, the Supreme Court imposed automatic liability for an owner who violated Norfolk’s leash law and allowed a dog to run free. The dog seriously injured a four year old. Despite any proof that the owner was on notice of the propensity of the dog to bite anyone (including a child) the Supreme Court reasoned that the leash statutes were designed to protect the public from the very risk of injury. Violating the leash law, therefore, was automatically unreasonable conduct, resulting in liability for the owner.

In 2001, the Court in Stout found that the use of an “invisible fence” could relieve the owner of responsibility for the leash law, assuming the dog had not shown dangerous propensities including a propensity to break out of this electronic enclosure.

The lack of strict liability in Virginia for dog bites and dog attacks puts an emphasis on prompt and intensive investigation of the owner and the animal involved. Frequently, dogs are reported to have shown no previous viscous tendencies, but on close scrutiny, many instances of biting and aggression can be documented.

Virginia’s Statute of Limitations

In Virginia, dog bite victims have just two years from the date of the attack to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you suffered injury to your personal property, the deadline is five years. Either way, it’s in the best interest of the dog bite victim to meet with a lawyer as soon after the attack as possible.

No Legal Fees Unless We Win

Our Virginia dog bite attorneys operate under a no fee promise. This means that you are not responsible for any legal fees unless we win or settle your case. Contact us to learn more about your legal rights 877-544-5323


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