Being bitten by a dog can be a terrifying and traumatic experience, leaving victims with severe physical and emotional injuries. If a dog attacked you in Fairfax, you may be eligible for compensation for your injuries. The experienced dog bite attorneys at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty, & Joshi, PLLC can explain Virginia's dog bite laws and what you can expect when you file a personal injury claim with the at-fault dog owner's insurance company.
Virginia's One-Bite Law
Unlike other states, Virginia does not have a statutory dog bite law. In the commonwealth, dog bite cases are primarily governed by what is commonly known as the "one-bite" law. A dog owner might be liable for injuries caused by their dogs if the owner knew or should have known that their dog was dangerous or aggressive. This one-bite rule would apply if the dog bit or attacked someone.
Virginia law specifies situations when a dog would be considered dangerous under the one-bite rule. The dog would be considered dangerous if:
- The dog has bitten someone else prior to the incident.
- The dog attacked a person in the past or exhibited other dangerous behaviors, such as jumping on an individual and knocking them down.
Exceptions to the One-Bite Rule
- The dog attack only caused the victim to suffer a scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury.
- The dog bite occurred in a lawful dog handling or dog hunting event.
- The person injured in the dog attack was committing a crime or trespassing on the dog owner's property.
- The victim provoked or physically abused the dog.
- The dog was an on-duty law enforcement dog.
Liability for a Dog Bite Under Negligence and Negligence Per Se Laws
If Virginia's one-bite rule does not apply, a dog bite victim may be able to hold a dog owner or dog handler liable for injuries under the state's negligence and negligence per se laws. Negligence occurs when a dog owner does not exercise reasonable care to stop their dog from harming others. This can include actions such as allowing the dog to roam freely, failing to secure the dog properly, or ignoring signs of aggressive behavior.
Negligence per se, on the other hand, holds the owner liable if they violated a statute or regulation designed to protect public safety. For example, if a dog owner knowingly violated a leash law, and their dog subsequently bites someone, they may be liable under negligence per se.
It is important to note that in negligence and negligence per se cases, prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities is not required. Instead, the focus is on the owner's failure to exercise reasonable care or comply with relevant laws and regulations.
Six Crucial First Steps to Take if You’re Bitten by a Dog
The actions you take after a dog bites you can directly impact the strength of your case and the amount of compensation you might recover. Here are five critical steps you should take right away:
- Seek immediate medical attention. After a dog bite, it is essential to be examined by a physician within 72 hours, even if the injury seems minor. Dog bites can lead to traumatic brain injuries, infections, nerve damage, and other complications. Documenting your injuries and receiving appropriate medical care will protect your health and help avoid arguments with the insurance company about the cause and severity of your injuries.
- Obtain contact information. You need to get the dog owner's name, contact information, and insurance details, so you can file an insurance claim. Additionally, gather contact information from any witnesses who observed the attack. Eyewitness statements and testimony can help you prove how the dog bite occurred and help establish the dog owner's liability.
- Take photos. Take photographs of the dog, the accident scene, and your injuries as soon as possible after the dog bite. Ask someone to take pictures if you are too injured to take them yourself.
- Report the incident. Contact your local animal control or law enforcement agency to report the dog bite incident. They will document the incident and create an official report.
- Preserve evidence. Keep any clothing or personal items that were damaged during the attack. These items may serve as compelling evidence to support your claim if you must take your case to trial. Preserve any medical records, bills, and receipts related to your treatment and recovery as well.
- Consult with a lawyer. Contact a knowledgeable dog bite attorney in Fairfax who can provide you with the legal guidance you need. A skilled attorney will evaluate your case, help you understand your rights, gather evidence, negotiate your settlement with insurance companies, and file a lawsuit if this is in your best interests.