Virginia Dog Owners Can Be Liable for Dog Bite Injuries
The scene unfolded like every parent’s nightmare: A mother and her five-year old child were invited by a neighbor into his backyard to play with his dog. The pit bull immediately attacked the child, who suffered complex facial injuries, including a large gaping wound on his cheek.
The mother initially thought the dog’s owner was not responsible for the injury and was not going to talk with a lawyer. Fortunately, she contacted Virginia Beach dog bite injury attorney Jeff Brooke — who advised the mother that, in fact, the owner might be liable for the injuries to the child under Virginia law.
filed a personal injury action in Norfolk Circuit Court against the dog owner’s insurance company. During negotiations preceding the trial, the parties reached a structured settlement of $300,000 that will pay substantial benefits to the child through his college years and beyond.
Dog Bite Injury Law in Virginia
Unlike some states, Virginia does not have a specific dog bite law, so responsibility for dog bite injuries is determined under generally-applicable personal injury law rules: A dog owner can be liable under the theory of negligence, especially if the dog has previously bitten or attacked someone or is known to have dangerous propensities.
By law, a dog owner has a duty to use ordinary care to prevent the dog causing injury to others. If the dog owner breaches that duty and harm results, he or she can be found negligent and have legal responsibility to pay damages for the injuries. As with many personal injury cases, each situation has to be evaluated based on the specific facts.
In general, a dog owner is responsible for knowing a dog’s nature and propensities in order to prevent harm. That includes knowing natural inclinations of the specific animal as well as the tendencies of the specific breed. An animal does not need to have a vicious temperament for the owner to be responsible. Under Virginia law, the owner must take the dog’s type and breed into account in determining whether the dog poses a risk of harm to others.
In addition, a dog owner also must consider the risks that the dog may pose to specific people. An affirmative act by the owner — such as inviting the mother and child to play with the dog — imposes a duty to know the dog and anticipate the particular risks that the invitation may pose.
How Long Do You Have to Sue for a Dog Bite Injury?
In Virginia, as in other states, there are time limitations for filing civil actions, called statutes of limitation. Since there is not a specific law relating to dog bite injuries, the general personal injury statute of limitations applies: A lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date the injury is sustained.
While there are two years to file a court action, waiting to contact an attorney for a serious dog bite injury is never advisable. Gathering evidence about the incident gets more difficult as time passes. While getting medical attention is always the first priority following a dog attack, when the injury is serious or may cause permanent injuries, contacting an attorney to discuss the incident also should be a top priority.
If You or a Family Member Suffered Serious Dog Bite Injuries in Virginia
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.