When Is a Virginia Dog Owner Legally Liable for Dog Bite Injuries?

dog bite injuries

Dog bite injuries are traumatic and can be very serious, or even fatal. In some circumstances, a Virginia dog owner may be legally responsible for compensating the victim of a dog bite. But the laws are complex and difficult to apply. If you or a family member suffer a dog bite that is more than superficial, you should talk with our experienced Virginia dog bite lawyers at Renfro & Renfro to determine whether you have a claim against the dog’s owner.

Virginia Dog Bite Liability Laws

Unlike some states that have statutes imposing liability on dog owners for dog bites and attacks, Virginia does not have specific statutes that apply. The general personal injury rules of negligence apply to dog bites. In addition, numerous court decisions interpret those rules as they apply in dog bite cases, which establishes the common law rules for dog bite liability.

Virginia courts recognize a rule known as the One Bite Rule that applies in dog bite cases. The rule dates back to colonial times and is still in effect. Under the One Bite Rule, a dog owner may be held not liable for dog bite injuries if the dog has not bitten anyone previously. The reasoning is that absent a history of biting, the owner has no reason to know the dog poses a risk to anyone. Conversely, if a dog has attacked before, the owner should know of the dog’s tendency, which may be evidence that helps establish negligence and liability.

Dog Owner Negligence

The One Bite Rule is not absolute, however. Negligence of a dog owner can be established in many ways that are unrelated to the dog’s bite history. In a particular case, the specific circumstances and facts determine whether a dog owner was negligent and therefore legally responsible for injuries.

The standard of negligence in personal injury cases requires a dog owner to use the care of a reasonable person under the circumstances to prevent dog bite injuries to others. Under this standard, an owner is responsible for properly containing and controlling their dog. An owner’s failure to control a dog may constitute lack of the required level of care, which may be evidence of negligence. If the owner violates local ordinances relating to leashing or confining dogs, the violation is also relevant to the issue of negligence.

As in all Virginia personal injury cases, any contributory negligence by an injured victim bars recovery from a dog owner. For example, if the owner can prove that the bite victim provoked the dog, was trespassing, or otherwise was even partially at fault, the owner will not be legally liable. The strict contributory negligence rule is one important reason why you should contact a lawyer anytime you receive a dog bite injury.

What To Do After a Dog Bite Injury

If a dog bites you or a family member, the top priority is getting medical treatment immediately. Even minor dog bite injuries are deceptive in appearance and can cause serious infections. Any break in the skin requires professional medical attention. Ascertaining whether the dog has a rabies vaccination is also necessary for medical purposes.

If possible while at the scene, you or someone on your behalf should get the dog owner’s contact information. Even if you don’t have those details, you should contact the local animal control agency immediately to report the incident. The officer may even be able to help you locate the owner if you did not get their contact information. Virginia has laws relating to dangerous dogs that are strictly enforced by animal control officers. The officer also may be able help regarding rabies vaccination information.

If the injury is more than superficial, you should talk with a knowledgeable dog bite attorney as soon as you feel up to it. If your lawyer finds the basis for a claim against the dog owner, you may be able to recover for the emotional trauma caused by the dog bite as well as physical injuries. At Renfro & Renfro, we do not charge for your initial consultation, so you have nothing to lose by contacting us.

Dog bite cases are factually and legally complex. You should not attempt to pursue your claim by yourself with the owner or their insurance company. Doing so could result in compromising your ability to pursue a legal claim. Even if you have to talk with the owner regarding the dog’s rabies vaccination, limit your discussion to that issue. If the owner’s liability insurance company contacts you, do not discuss the case. Tell them your lawyer will be in touch regarding the injury.

Free Case Analysis By an Experienced Virginia Dog Bite Lawyer

Our Richmond personal injury lawyers at Renfro & Renfro have the experience to help you with a claim for dog bite injuries. We understand Virginia dog bite law and know how to investigate cases involving dog bites and other animal attacks. If you have a claim and deserve compensation, our attorneys will aggressively pursue your case. Your initial consultation and case evaluation are always free of charge.


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