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Virginia’s Dog Bite Law Limits Owners’ Liability

Virginia law provides protections for both dog owners and victims of dog bites. If you are involved in a dog bite incident, it is important to know that Virginia follows a system of contributory negligence. The law maintains that a person whose negligent acts led to their own injury cannot recover damages for those injuries. This holds true when an injured person is partially or fully at fault for a dog attack.

Whether or not a dog is considered “dangerous” also plays an important role in the legal options for each party. To prove that a dog owner (the defendant) is liable for damages, a victim (the plaintiff) can demonstrate that the owner knew the dog was dangerous or aggressive. The plaintiff can alternately show that the dog owner neglected their duty of care by failing to properly restrain or handle the dog.

Under Virginia law, a dog can be deemed dangerous if:

  • The dog bites, attacks or inflicts injury on a person. The injury must be more serious that a single nip or a bite that only causes a scratch, abrasion or minor injury.
  • The dog bites, attacks or inflicts injury on a companion animal owned by someone other than the attacking dog’s owner.
  • The dog is already registered as dangerous due to its past behavior.

A dog may not be deemed dangerous if:

  • The dog inflicted injury on a person who was committing a crime or trespassing on the owner’s property.
  • The injured person provoked, tormented or physically abused the dog.
  • The dog inflicted injury while protecting a person, itself, its offspring, its kennel or its owner’s property.
  • The dog inflicted injury as a response to pain or injury.
  • The dog inflicted injury on another dog or cat during lawful hunting or while participating in an organized, lawful dog-handling event.
  • It was a police dog engaged in official duties.

If a court finds that a dog is dangerous, the owner can be ordered to pay damages to any person injured by the dog or to any person whose pet was injured or killed by the dog. Owners of dogs that are known to be dangerous are required to have liability insurance of at least $100,000 that covers dog bites. When a dog that is labeled as dangerous attacks another person or animal, the owner may face criminal penalties along with civil liability.

There is generally a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Virginia, including those for dog bite cases. When you choose to speak to our firm and explore your options after an animal attack, our lawyers can work to collect and preserve evidence that could prove crucial to your case. To schedule a consultation with a legal professional at Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C., call 434-973-7474 or contact us online. With offices in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Palmyra and Staunton, we represent clients throughout the state.

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