Who is Liable for an Alexandria Dog Bite or Attack?
April 5, 2018
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Dog bites and attacks can cause severe physical and emotional harm, so it seems only natural for Alexandria dog bite victims to be able to hold someone liable for the pain and suffering they have incurred. Unfortunately, establishing liability under Virginia dog bite law is not that easy.

Due to the fact that the state does not have a specific statute for dog bites and attacks, court decisions in dog bite and attack cases usually rely on the rules and precedents established in other Virginia dog bite court trials throughout time. The best solution for dog bite victims interested in filing a lawsuit in Alexandria, VA, is to consult an experienced attorney, in order to find out what state laws could affect their case.

Virginia’s “One Bite” Law for Dog Attacks

It is important to note that Virginia is the state of the “one bite” rule. According to this rule, dog owners’ liability for any injuries their animal caused depends on whether the animal has harmed or attempted to harm someone else in the past. Otherwise put, the first bite or attack may qualify as an unfortunate accident, and the dog owner is only liable if one was aware of the animal’s aggressive tendencies.

If you have been hurt by a dog bite, an Ashcraft & Gerel attorney can help you seek compensation.

Also, according to HB2381, law enforcement and animal control officers no longer have to summon dog owners in court if the dog inflicted only minor injury and they have no reason to consider it dangerous. It also establishes exemptions for the “dangerous dog” definition and reduces the period a dog owner has to register the dog as dangerous from 45 to 30 days.  

This does not mean that dog owners can leave their pets wander freely on the streets just because they have no reason to suspect the animals may become aggressive. Besides dog bite law, Alexandria court sentences take into account other legal aspects as well, an overview of the most important being available below:


Legal Aspects That May Influence Liability in an Alexandria Dog Bite Lawsuit

1. Negligence

Dog owners may be liable for their pets’ bites or attacks if the victim proves that they neglected their duties and responsibilities as owners. According to Virginia Code § 3.2-6500, owners are persons who:

  • Have right of property over dogs
  • Keep or harbor dogs
  • Have dogs in their care
  • Act as custodians of the dogs

The dog owner statute comes with a series of responsibilities. Failure to live up to these responsibilities may make one liable for negligence in an Alexandria dog bite lawsuit. Virginia Model Jury Instruction 29.020 defines dog owners’ duty of care, and, implicitly, negligence as failure to comply with this duty.

According to the instruction, animal owners who know or should know that their animal may bite or attack a person or a pet has the duty to take reasonable precautions in order to prevent such aggressive behavior. Failure to take precautions qualifies as negligence.

Virginia Model Jury Instruction 29.010 establishes that animal owners in general, and, implicitly, dog owners, should take notice of the general characteristics and inclinations of the animal in their care. If those characteristics or inclinations suggest that the animal may injure someone, the owner has to take measures to prevent injuries. Failure to do so makes the owner liable for negligence.

Persons who possess or harbor domestic animals (dogs included) they do not know or have no reason to consider dangerous are liable for the harm those animals cause if:

  • They intentionally cause the animal to do harm
  • They are negligent and fail to prevent the harm

While a dog owner may have only recently acquired possession of their animal and have not yet gotten to know it, one still has the responsibility to know the general characteristics and behavior tendencies of dogs from the respective breed and take corresponding precaution measures.

Thus, owners should be aware that their dog may bite people or jump on them, and take measures to prevent such occurrences, like using restraints, leashes, and muzzles, especially when inviting guests on their property. This brings us to another aspect related to dog bite law in Alexandria, VA.

2. Landlord Liability

Virginia laws hold landlords responsible for any dangerous conditions on their property, including vicious dogs. When inviting someone on their property, landlords should inspect that property to assess potential dangers and protect their guests from harm.

Landlords are not liable for injuries the victim occurred due to one’s own negligence. For example, if the landlord warns the guest not to touch the dog but the guest does not listen or the landlord keeps the dog restrained or isolated but the guest goes to the dog anyway, the landlord is not liable for the harm the guest incurs.

3. Negligence Per Se

It is not uncommon for an Alexandria dog bite lawsuit to find a dog owner guilty of negligence per se. This usually happens when the dog bite or attack takes place while the dog owner violates leash law or some other public protection ordinance. Virginia law considers statute and ordinance violations negligence per se.

Of course, other circumstances may deem dog owners liable in an Alexandria dog bite lawsuit as well. In order to assess liability underdog bite law, Alexandria residents who have been injured due to a dog bite should seek the advice of an experienced attorney.

Schedule a Consultation with a Virginia Dog Bite Attorney

If a dog bit or attacked you and you wish to know what your rights are, contact Ashcraft & Gerel now! Our attorneys will gladly guide you through the intricacies of Virginia dog bite law and help you through your Alexandria dog bite lawsuit from start to finish of your case.