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Dog Bite Injuries in Virginia: What are the Rules?

Dogs are, far and away, the most popular household pet. Around two-thirds of American households own at least one dog. These furry friends come in all shapes and sizes, and the vast majority are well-behaved pooches whose only fault is drooling a little too much on the couch. 

The fact remains, though, that dogs retain many of their instincts and behavior from their wild ancestors, which sometimes result in bites or rough physical contact with humans. The worst of these cases result in serious injury and death. Although most people might not think of dog owners as terrible people if their dog bites someone, that doesn’t change the fact that victims and their families often need money after an incident. 

The One-Bite Rule

Virginia is one of 16 states that follows the one-bite rule. This rule means that dog owners can be held liable for others’ injuries if the owner had prior knowledge of his or her dog’s aggressive behavior. This rule is referred to as the one-bite rule because a previous biting incident is typically enough to indicate aggressive tendencies and, therefore, hold the owner liable in a dog bite case. 

The one-bite rule does not mean that an owner cannot be held liable if the dog never bit anyone before. The plaintiff in a dog bite case can show other evidence that the owner knew of the dog’s demeanor and disposition. Additionally, state law requires dog owners to be aware of the characteristics and natural inclinations of certain breeds.

Negligence of Dog Owners

The one-bite rule is not absolute. An owner of a dog that bites someone could be held liable even without prior knowledge of the dog’s behavior. Owners generally have an obligation to exercise reasonable care to control their pets. For instance, many municipalities have leash laws. A normally mellow dog that bites someone could result in liability for the owner if he or she was not following a local leash ordinance. While many Virginia cities and towns have such laws, they vary from one municipality to another. 

Was the Plaintiff Negligent?

Yes, the negligence of plaintiffs—as well as the dog owner—can come into play in Virginia dog bite cases. If the defendant is able to show that the victim played some part in the attack, such as taunting the dog or ignoring a “Beware of Dog” sign, the plaintiff will recover nothing. This is due to the state’s contributory negligence rule, which prevents monetary recovery by someone who was as little as one percent responsible for an injury-causing accident. 

What Can Dog Bite Victims Recover? 

Damages often recovered by dog bite victims in Virginia are the same as the ones in other types of personal injury cases. Common damages include medical bills (present and future), lost wages, temporary or permanent disability, and emotional injuries. If you are leery of suing your neighbor or friend for damages after a dog bite, understand that many homeowners insurance policies cover damages in these cases. Act quickly, though: the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit is two years from the date of the bite.

Call An Attorney Today

Multiple factors are involved in determining whether a dog owner in Virginia has liability for injuries caused by his or her canine. Relative to other states, Virginia has good news and bad news for both plaintiffs and defendants alike in dog bite cases. On top of civil claims, dog owners may sometimes be held criminally liable for the actions of their pets. 

Norton Pelt has handled complex cases involving dog bites and attacks. These are unique cases that require a personalized approach from experienced legal counsel. We’re ready to Represent You With the Strength of a Mountain.

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