What Are the Dog Bite Laws in Virginia?

Dog bites can be painful, scary and, in some cases, traumatic. Many victims find themselves confused about their rights, the legal duties of the dog owner, and the compensation to which they may be entitled.

dog bite laws in VA

Generally, Virginia’s one bite rule allows victims to seek compensation if the dog owner knew of the dog’s aggressive tendencies but did nothing to prevent an attack from happening. Negligence per se injury or death that occurs due to a dog owner’s disregard for animal laws, can also be grounds for a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the lack of strict liability in Virginia for dog bite claims can make it difficult for victims to recover compensation. Contact Virginia dog bite lawyer Richard Serpe for a free consultation to protect your legal rights.

Virginia’s “One Bite” Rule

aggressive dog

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. The one bite rule may also include other previously known aggressive behaviors such as growling, snarling, barring teeth, lunging, or nipping.

In other words, if Fido got into trouble for biting a neighbor last year, his owner must take necessary precautions to prevent additional attacks from occurring. Should Fido bite again, his owner can be held legally responsible for the victim’s injuries. 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 are in public and attacked by a dog whose owner has let it roam off 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.

Butler v. Frieden, 208 Va. 352: In 1967, 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 child. 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.

Compensatory Damages Available to Dog Bite Victims

Typical damages for which Virginia dog bite victims can receive compensation include:

  • Pain and suffering: This is the right to compensation for physical pain and suffering and mental anguish you have suffered and could possibly endure in the future. This accounts for many of the damages that are recovered and are in addition to the following damages that are discussed.
  • Loss of Earnings: You are entitled to recover for the loss of earnings which you suffered from your injuries.  This includes wages, commissions, bonuses, and all other earnings and fringe benefits.  If you are not able to work because you are recovering from your injuries, the loss of income will be made up.
  • Future Loss of Earnings: If your injuries have prevented you from your ability to earn income in the future, you can recover damages for the value of the reduction in earning capacity with reasonable probability which will occur in the future.
  • Disfigurement: If the injury causes scarring or other unsightly marks, the victim is entitled to recovery for the disfigurement. Because these injuries are often in very visible places, victims are often very self-conscious of their appearance.
    • Children are frequently bitten in the facial region and require plastic surgery later on in life. Depending on the age of the child at the time of the attack, many surgeons will not perform surgical revisions until the child reaches early adulthood.  This means that, many times, children will go through the embarrassment and humiliation of the scar through adolescence, a period in which they are very self- conscious of their appearance. This often impacts them both socially and emotionally.
  • Medical Expenses: Dangers include any sort of medical expenses that a victim has had to pay for at a hospital, clinic, or to a pharmacy.  These include the cost of basic medical treatment, going to the emergency room, and any sort of surgical treatment or care needed to repair the damaged area of the body.

Virginia Statute of Limitations

In Virginia, there are strict deadlines for filing a personal injury lawsuit. In most cases, Virginia provides a two-year deadline also known as a Statute of Limitations. However, sometimes special circumstances apply and can alter that deadline. Contact an experienced Virginia dog bite lawyer as soon as possible to protect your legal rights.

Virginia Dog Bite Lawyer Richard Serpe

The lack of strict liability in Virginia for dog bites and dog attacks puts an emphasis on prompt and intensive investigation into the dog 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. Contact Virginia dog bite lawyer Richard Serpe to discuss your legal rights.

Virginia dog bite lawyer Richard SerpeRichard Serpe is a highly skilled personal injury lawyer with a reputation for meticulous trial preparation and presentation. He has a tremendous track record of success in obtaining substantial jury verdicts and settlements for his clients. A substantial portion of his career has been devoted to the representation of injured children.

Notable Professional Honors


    Virginia Best Lawyers 2021, Richard Serpe
    Virginia Dog Bite Settlements
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    Client sustained serious facial injuries after being attacked by dog.
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    Postal worker sustained a serious knee injury after being attacked on the job.
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    FedEx Delivery Driver
    FedEx delivery driver sustained major injuries to arm after being bitten while working.
    Wythe Co., VA
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