For most people who have dogs as pets; these loyal, lovable creatures are like their family members. It is difficult to imagine that they can pose a threat to people you love or know. However, dog-bites, ranging from friendly nips to gnarly attacks, are a fact.

Dog-bites can cause trauma to children and sometimes be fatal. Dogs also are the carriers of infections that delay the healing process in case of dog bites. It always helps to be aware of the facts and the dangers involved, so we can face the issue in a pragmatic but compassionate way.

Dog Bite Laws in Virginia

Virginia, unlike several other states, does not have a definitive dog-bite law. Any dog-bite injury litigation follows the precedent of similar cases argued over the years in Virginia courts.

Mostly, the dog-bite claims in Virginia follow the one-bite statute. What this means is that a dog’s owner is liable for injuries only if they knew of their dog’s aggressive tendencies.

Any prior incidents in the knowledge of the dog’s owner, of the dog biting, snapping, or lunging at someone, can be the grounds of an injury claim under the one-bite rule.

The one-bite rule applies not only to dog-bites but also to any other kind of bodily harm or injuries. If a dog jumps on someone resulting in injuries, they can hold the dog’s owner liable, and seek damages.

If someone other than the owner had the dog’s custody and control at the time of the attack, they too could be liable. It could be a friend or family member of the dog’s owner, or a paid dog walker. 

Unlike many other states, Virginia does not follow the strict liability rule whereby a dog’s owner is liable even without any prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive tendencies, or similar biting incidents in the past.

Provisions of Negligence and Negligence Per Se

If a dog-bite claim does not fall under the purview of the one-bite rule, there still are provisions to seek damages from a dog’s owner even if they had no prior knowledge of their dog’s aggressive tendencies.


To seek such an injury claim, the injured person needs to establish that the dog owner was negligent in the discharge of their duty to restrain the dog.

Negligence Per Se

In cases where the dog owner fails to adhere to established rules and city ordinances to restrain the dog, the injured person can seek damages citing negligence per se, without the need for further evidence.    

A Few Dog-Bite Statistics

While the American Pet Products Association (APPA) puts the number of pet dogs in the United States at close to 90 million, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) figures are significantly lower, at roughly 77 million. Approximately 4.5 million people are victims of a dog-attack each year. One-fifth of these cases require medical care.

Unfortunately, children under 14 constituted more than 30 percent of the dog-attack victims, with most of them being between 5 and 9. About one-fourth of dog-bite fatalities were children below the age of 2 years.  

Most of the children had injuries to the face, neck, and head. Mostly, children may play with an aggressive dog, unaware of its tendencies and lacking the judgment to not approach strange dogs. 

What to Do If Your Child was Bitten by a Dog in Virginia?

In case of a dog bite or a dog attack on your child, try to take as many of the following steps as possible:

  • Get your child away from the dog and to a safe place
  • Apply pressure if the wound is deep
  • Wash the wound with soap and water
  • Apply antibiotic cream
  • Cover the wound with a bandage
  • Call 911 for emergency medical attention, if necessary
  • See a doctor as soon as possible
  • Keep the clothes your child was wearing at the time of the attack
  • Take photos of the dog, the scene of the attack, and your child’s wounds
  • Get names and phone numbers of the dog owner or keeper, and any witnesses
  • Report the dog-attack to local animal control or law enforcement

How Can You Hold the Dog Owner Accountable?

Usually, people are reluctant to seek damages from a dog’s owner if they are a friend or a neighbor. However, the dog owner’s homeowner policy invariably covers dog-bites, unless it has a stipulation that excludes certain breeds of dogs.

You must file a claim if your child has serious wounds from a dog bite. Even if the owner has no insurance, you do not deserve to pay for your child’s physical and emotional trauma as well as your financial losses.

Under Virginia laws, contributory negligence results in a complete bar to recovery. If the dog owner can prove that some provocation from your child was responsible for the dog-attack, contributory negligence could apply.

Talk to an Experienced Virginia Dog Bite Attorney

Virginia’s one-bite rule and the lack of a strict liability statute means the dog-bite claims are never simple. You may be entitled to medical treatment costs and financial compensation for the pain, suffering, and emotional anguish that your child has gone through.

It is easier to seek damages from a dog owner and expect a favorable insurance payout with a competent Virginia dog-bite attorney from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp by your side. If you would like to meet with one of our skilled Virginia dog bite attorneys to find out how we can help, call us today at (833) 997-1774 for a free case evaluation or contact us online to schedule a confidential and free consultation.