Legal Duties of Virginia Dog Owners
Under Virginia law, a person who owns a dog or otherwise has custody or control of the dog has certain legal duties, including:
- It is the duty of the owner of domestic animals to exercise ordinary care to prevent them from running at large beyond the boundaries of his own land. This requirement may turn on whether your county or city has a “leash law” ordinance. Check our website for a list of these cities and counties.
- If the owner of a dog sees or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been aware of the fact that his animal was about to attack or injure another person or their property, then the owner is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent it from doing so
- Dog owners are charged with knowledge of the general propensities of dogs and also of any particular propensities peculiar to the breed of dog that he knew or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known. Insofar as any such propensities were of a nature likely to cause injury, it is the duty of dog owners to exercise ordinary care to guard against them and to prevent injuries that were reasonably to be anticipated from any such propensities.
Virginia’s “Dangerous Dog” Definition
Virginia state law provides a definition of a “dangerous dog.” Regrettably, the definition does not provide that any breed of dog is automatically deemed dangerous:
“Dangerous dog” means a canine or canine crossbreed that has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal that is a dog or cat, or killed a companion animal that is a dog or cat. When a dog attacks or bites a companion animal that is a dog or cat, the attacking or biting dog shall not be deemed dangerous
(i) if no serious physical injury as determined by a licensed veterinarian has occurred to the dog or cat as a result of the attack or bite;
(ii) if both animals are owned by the same person;
(iii) if such attack occurs on the property of the attacking or biting dog’s owner or custodian; or
(iv) for other good cause as determined by the court…. No canine or canine crossbreed shall be found to be a dangerous dog solely because it is a particular breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed of canine or canine crossbreed prohibited.
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.
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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