Owner Liability in Virginia Dog Bite Cases

To bite means to cut, tear, wound, or rip with teeth. Another definition is to grip or hold with teeth, not causing a wound. Therefore, does a dog cross the line by “mouthing” a hand, such as in teething, without puncturing skin? Additionally, is a bite considered provoked and how does that affect a personal injury claim?

Once medical bills begin accumulating, many clients begin to scrutinize personal experiences by asking questions similar to these, and with good reason. Understanding dog bite law empowers victims to stand up for their rights and receive the compensation they deserve.

What Is a Dog Bite According to Virginia State Law?

Anyone who plays with a puppy knows that they have a tendency to chew on hands with their pin-sharp teeth. As cute as puppies are, these needle-like pearly whites have the potential to cause damage. While these animals do not necessarily mean to cause harm, it is the responsibility of an owner to train a puppy to not put its mouth on anyone or anything. Otherwise, when the puppy becomes a grown dog, it can cause significant damage.

However, Virginia law does hold dog owners responsible for the actions of their dogs.

A dog bite can occur anytime a dog takes something by the mouth and either attempts to close or actually closes its jaw around an object, and the canine’s teeth puncture, wound, or grip the item. By law, the skin does not need to be damaged. This definition incriminates even the playful puppy meaning no harm. Hence, the law provides stipulations for a suit, including:

  • The dog must have attacked, attempted to attack, or injured a person, and
  • The victim was within his or her rights to be at that location at that time.

What Is Provoking Behavior?

Dogs, no matter how well-trained, are animals with individual personalities, and all are capable of having a “bad day.” Although state statutes do not consider provoking behavior as a defense for a bite, in the past, courts have conceded that in dog bite cases, a bite victim must not be instigating. However, most cases fail to provide adequate proof that also rationalizes the severity of the behavior.

Virginia does follow the “one bite” rule, which means that if a dog owner knows their dog has bitten once before, they can be held liable for the damages caused in subsequent attacks.

Additionally, if a bite victim is a young child, provocation is not applicable. As a general rule of thumb and similar to cases involving humans, if the dog reacted out of self-defense for its safety or life, a provocation defense may apply, but the reaction must be directly proportional to the perceived danger and no more force than necessary was required to stop the inciting attack.

Contact a Virginia Dog Bite Attorney for Assistance

If you or a family member have sustained injuries from a dog, contact a Virginia personal injury attorney to find out what legal options you may have. Not only may you be entitled to medical expenses and loss of income, but you may also be entitled to financial compensation for pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and the scarring or disfigurement your injuries have left.

Call Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp today to schedule a free consultation and find out what legal options you may have.