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Dog Bite Injuries:  Virginia’s One Bite Rule

Dog at Police Line-Up - Virginia One Bite Rule

In 2018, Virginia became the first state to enact a law requiring animal adoption agencies to disclose a dog’s bite history to prospective adopters. (We mentioned this legislation and the case that led to it in a previous blog post.) Yet the state lags behind other states in making owners of dogs legally liable for bite injuries to people or other animals. A court-created rule known as the “One Bite Rule” — which dates back to colonial times — still applies to personal injury lawsuits for dog bite injuries.

While the One Bite Rule does not make it impossible to hold a dog owner responsible for dog bite injuries, it does affect the amount and kind of evidence necessary to impose liability.

The “One Bite Rule” Explained

Unlike some other states, Virginia does not have a statute addressing owner liability for dog bites. Court decisions in prior cases establish the criteria that apply in dog bite cases.

Traditionally, Virginia courts have held that a dog owner is not responsible for injuries caused by a dog if that dog has not attacked a person or another pet previously. The rule is known as the “One Bite Rule.” It provides that a dog owner generally is not liable for bite injuries until after one bite has occurred. The reasoning behind the rule is that an owner does not know that a dog is dangerous until the dog bites someone.

The rule does not mean the owner escapes liability in all "one-bite" cases, however. A dog owner’s negligence can still make the owner liable, even if the dog has not bitten anyone else. Liability can arise in many different situations.

If evidence establishes that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had a tendency to be dangerous, the owner can still be liable for an unprovoked attack on a person or on another pet. For example, if the breed of dog has the tendency to attack people and other animals or if the dog has shown hostility in the past, that evidence can be used to establish liability.

Dog owners are required to properly control and contain their dogs. If the owner allows a dog to run free without a leash, or if a dog is not properly confined so that it can escape, the owner may be responsible for injuries the dog causes. Violation of state and local laws relating to leashing and confining pets also can provide the basis for owner liability.

Virginia does have laws about dangerous dogs. Dog owners are required to take extra precautions when a dog is classified as dangerous. The owner can face criminal penalties in addition to civil liability if the dog injures a person or companion animal.

In other words, while Virginia does follow a “One Bite Rule” in dog bite injury cases, there are circumstances in which an owner may be liable even if the dog has not injured anyone previously. Whether a dog owner is responsible for compensation the victim depends on the facts of each specific case. Investigation and analysis into the circumstances of the injury and dog's history are necessary to determine the owner's potential liability.

Contributory Negligence in Dog Bite Injury Cases

Dog bite cases based on negligence of a dog owner have the same rules as other personal injury cases in Virginia. A victim who contributes to his or her own injuries to any degree is prevented from recovery under the legal rule of contributory negligence.

Virginia is one of few states using this harsh standard. It applies in all personal injury cases based on negligence — dog bite cases included. If the victim taunted or provoked the dog, trespassed on the owner’s property, or otherwise contributed to the dog’s attack, contributory negligence may bar any compensation for the injuries sustained. The existence of contributory negligence is determined based on the specific facts and circumstances.

Should You Talk to a Lawyer After a Dog Bite?

Whether an owner is liable for injuries from a dog bite always depends on the specific circumstances that occurred, as well as the dog’s background and history. The only way to know for sure if you are entitled to compensation is to talk with a personal injury attorney.

Dog attacks can cause severe injuries, even inflicting life-long disability and disfigurement. Just last year, The Jeff Brooke Team won a $300,000 settlement for a five-year old child who suffered significant facial injuries when he was bitten by a pit bull. In that case, the mother did not realize initially that she might be able to recover compensation for her child.

If you or a family member suffered severe injuries from a dog attack, talk with a personal injury attorney about your case. If you lost a family member because of a dog attack, you also should talk with an attorney. Depending on the circumstances, your family may be able to file a wrongful death action to recover for your loved one’s injuries and death.

When a serious dog bite injury occurs, consulting with an attorney at the earliest possible time is extremely important. Gathering evidence about the incident and about the dog becomes more difficult as time passes. In addition, there is a two-year statute of limitations on filing a legal action for the injury. The right to file will be lost if an action is not filed within two years of the incident.

Talk With a Virginia Beach Dog Bite Injury Lawyer

At The Jeff Brooke Team, our personal injury practice includes representing victims of serious dog bite injuries. We are here to help if you or a family member suffered substantial injuries from a dog attack or bite. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm serves clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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