Understanding Dog Bite Laws and Your Rights in Virginia

Learn about Virginia dog bite law and everything you need to know involving dog bites injury cases.
A dog barking on the street in a situation where you need to know your rights after a dog bite attack.

A dog is undoubtedly one of the most loved animals in many American homes. While dogs can be friendly pets, they are also dangerous when they attack someone. Recent data from the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that over 4.5 million people visit hospitals for dog bites annually in the USA. Dog bite injuries are traumatic and can be very serious, or even fatal.

The Virginia law requires dog owners to use reasonable care to restrain and control their dogs. They have this duty whether or not they are aware their dog is dangerous. 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.

How “One Bite Law” Affects Your Right to Compensation in Virginia

Under the state’s one-bite rule, a dog owner is only held liable for injuries caused by their dog if the owner knew or should have known the dog might act aggressively against a person or pet. This means to be entitled to compensation, the victim of the dog bite must prove that the pet owner knew or should have known that their dog was dangerous.

A dog owner may not be held 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.

Some of the Ways to Prove This Include:

  • Proof that the dog had bitten someone in the past. This proves the dog owner knew their dog was dangerous.
  • Provide evidence that the dog had behaved aggressively in the past, such as jumping on people, racing them, and knocking them down.

Negligence in Virginia Dog Bite Cases

In Virginia, dog bite cases often hinge on the concept of negligence, which determines whether a dog owner is legally responsible for injuries inflicted by their pet. While Virginia does not have specific statutes regarding dog bites, negligence plays a crucial role in establishing liability, even if it’s the first time the dog has attacked someone.

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.

Dog Owner’s Failure to Use Reasonable Care

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.

Negligence “per se” in Virginia Dog Bite Claims

If the owner violates local ordinances relating to leashing or confining dogs, the violation is also relevant to the issue of negligence. For instance, failing to leash a dog in a public park where leash ordinances are in effect may constitute negligence “per se”.

The negligence “per se” rule states a person will automatically be responsible for an accident if they broke the law without further proof of negligence. Breaking Virginia’s dangerous restrictions could be grounds for a negligence claim against the pet owner.

Contributory Negligence in Virginia Dog Bite Cases

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

Get Medical Treatment

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.

Get The Dog Owner’s Contact Information

If possible while at the scene, you or someone on your behalf should get the dog owner’s contact information.

Report the Incident

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.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

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.

What Are Recoverable Damages in a Virginia Dog Bite Case?

If you or a loved one suffers injuries from a dog attack, you might be eligible for the following compensatory damages:

Medical Bills

Medical bills are the primary costs of a dog bite injury. The treatment cost for a dog-inflicted injury can be enormous. Your recoverable medical bills damages can include expenses such as emergency medical service fees, ambulance service fees, physician’s fees, medication, and more. You can also recover future medical costs, including home modifications and physical therapy.

Lost Wages or Income

A dog bite injury will likely prevent you from working for a while. In such a scenario, you might be eligible for compensation for lost wages for your entire recovery period.

Lost Earning Potential

A dog bite can result in disabling injuries that may prevent you from returning to work. If that is the case, you can recover reimbursement for your lost earning capacity.

Physical Pain and Suffering

Dog bites can be debilitating and painful. Medical procedures to restore the body’s functionality, including surgeries and physical therapy, can also be painful. You can recover compensation for physical pain due to your injuries.

Receive a 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.

Contact us to get started.


More Posts

Send Us A Message

Our goal is to help people in the best way possible. This is a basic principle in every case and cause for success. contact us today for a free consultation. 

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.