Pursuing Justice for the Victims of Dog Attacks
In Virginia, there are various laws that could affect your case whether you suffered a dog bite injury or you risk facing a lawsuit as a dog owner. At Ashcraft & Gerel, our personal injury attorneys are extremely familiar with the nuances and complexities of dog attack claims. We are here to help you navigate your claim and pursue the compensation you are entitled to.
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The Law on Dog Bites in Virginia
Unlike many other states, Virginia as a whole does not have specific dog bite statutes. In Virginia, dog-related injury and bite cases are handled according to rules that have been laid down in court cases throughout the years. Your Manassas dog bite lawyer will know the laws and will be able to help you with your case.
Typically, Manassas follows the one-bite rule. Under this rule, dog owners can be held liable for any injuries their dog causes if the owner either knew or should have known that their dog could have acted aggressively. For example, if the dog had previously harmed someone, the owner can be held liable for dog bite injuries at a later date.
The rule, despite its name, does not only apply to bites. It is also applicable to other kinds of harm that a dog may cause. For instance, if the dog is known to regularly jump on people, a person who is hurt when that dog jumps on him or her could decide to seek monetary damages from the pet owner.
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Expanding on the One-Bite Rule
Let’s take a closer look at the one-bite rule for dog bites. The rule holds, as we mentioned, that an animal’s owner is only accountable for injuries if he or she knew that their dog was hazardous or even aggressive. It is called the one-bite rule because the evidence presented usually shows that the owner knew, or at least should have known, that their dog was dangerous because the dog had already bitten at least one other individual.
It is important to note that victims of dog bites are permitted to present other kinds of information in order to prove that the dog owner knew, or should have been aware, that the dog was aggressive or dangerous.
Negligence & Negligenceper se
If the dog has never been known to injure someone, a person who is harmed by the animal may still try to seek compensatory damages from the dog’s owner. But, to successfully seek such damages when the dog owner had no prior knowledge of the dog’s propensities, the victim must demonstrate that the dog owner had a duty to exercise reasonable care to restrain the dog, and that it was the owner’s failure to meet such responsibility that resulted in the injury. If the victim can establish the animal owner’s negligence in such a way, then liability can be established.
In some instances, the dog bite victim may claim that it was the owner’s behavior that constituted negligenceper se, which means negligence in and of itself without the need for any further proof. For instance, if a pedestrian is walking along the pavement and is bitten by a dog, and the dog’s owner was walking along the pavement but did not have the dog on a leash – even though it is a city ordinance to do so – the owner can be found negligent. In this instance, the pedestrian may argue that the dog owner’s failure to leash the dog could be considered negligenceper se since the owner was in violation of the city ordinance. If the victim wins the argument, then he or she can show that the owner must be held liable for damages relating to the bite.
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Criminal Penalties for Dog Bite Injuries
Under Virginia’s Code, Section 3.2-6540, criminal penalties can be imposed on owners of dangerous dogs where the animal causes death or injury to another person.
If the owner’s pet is listed on the state’s registry as a dangerous dog breed and it harms someone, the potential criminal penalties can include:
- Conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor if the dog attacks or bites a person and causes injury
- Conviction of a Class 2 misdemeanor if the animal attacked and killed or injured someone else’s dog or cat
- Conviction of a Class 6 felony if the dog owner is so wanton, gross, and culpable as to demonstrate a reckless disregard for another human’s life and is found to be the proximate cause of the dog causing injury to another human being
Furthermore, criminal penalties can be imposed for owners of dangerous dogs who do not follow the state’s rules for registering and keeping such pets. If there are criminal charges filed, the victim of the dangerous dog injury is also entitled to file a civil lawsuit. The criminal charges can be filed by state or local prosecutors, and civil lawsuits are filed directly by the injured party with the assistance of our Manassas dog bite lawyers.
Defending a Dog Bite Claim
In the case of a civil lawsuit relating to a dog bite, the most common defense raised in the city is contributory negligence. For instance, if a young child is teasing the neighbor’s dog with a twig and the dog bites the child, the owner of the dog could argue that the child provoked the dog, which resulted in the bite. So, by provoking the animal, according to the argument, the child contributed to his or her injuries and therefore should not be allowed to claim for damages.
In the state of Virginia, contributory negligence is considered a complete bar to recovery. In other words, if the injured victim is found even to be 1% responsible for their own harm, they may not recover any damages whatsoever. It’s imperative to speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer who understands Virginia’s contributory negligence law.
Dog Bite Lawsuits & the Statute of Limitations
Just like every other state, Virginia has a statute of limitations – or time limit – for filing personal injury cases, including dog-related injury cases and dog bite cases. In this instance, an injured person has a period of two years from the date the injury occurs to file a claim in court. If the lawsuit is not filed in court within the two-year period, the court is entitled to refuse to hear the lawsuit. Therefore, it is important to ensure a claim is filed before the time has expired.
The Dangerous Dog Statute
In Manassas, the governing body of the city is free to enact local vicious and dangerous dog rules.
If the city enacts such a law, the state requires a few minimum essentials, including:
- The definition of a dangerous dog: Under the law, a dangerous dog is one that has attacked, inflicted injury on, or bitten an individual or another pet; or a dog that has killed a companion animal.
- The definition of a vicious dog: According to the law, a vicious dog is one that has killed somebody, inflicted serious injuries on someone – including severe disfigurement, impairment of health, multiple bites, or even serious impairment of a person’s bodily functions. Also, a vicious dog may be considered one that has continually exhibited such behavior that resulted in previous findings by a court that it is considered a dangerous dog breed.
Dangerous Dog Owners Have Legal Responsibilities
The owners of dangerous dogs have certain legal responsibilities.
Under the law:
- Dog owners have to obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate from their local animal control officer for a fee that ranges from $50-$150.
- All dangerous dogs are required to wear an identification tag that states “dangerous dog.”
- Dangerous dogs must be identified via electronic implantations.
- Dangerous dog owners are required to post their property with signs that are visible and that warn both adults and minors of the presence of a dangerous dog breed.
- While on the owner’s property, the dangerous dog has to be confined indoors or confined outdoors in a securely locked and enclosed structure that is designed to prevent it escaping or having direct contact with adults, minors, and other animals. When the dog is off the owner’s property, it has to be kept muzzled and on a leash in order to prevent it from harming another animal or person.
- All dangerous dog owners in Manassas are required to maintain liability insurance
Landlord liability also pertains to dog bite laws in the city. Landlords are considered to be responsible for any hazardous conditions, including dangerous dogs, and therefore they may be held liable in dog bite cases. If a person is invited onto the landowner’s property, that landowner is obliged to inspect his or her property for any harmful conditions and take measures to protect invitees from potentially hazardous conditions. Therefore, it is noted that landlords have a duty of care when it comes to animals as potentially dangerous breeds.
Landlords are seen to have notice of any harmful condition of their property if that condition has been around for a certain period of time during which the landowner should have discovered it and rectified it. Landlords can be charged with both constructive and actual knowledge of the condition of the land and are subject to liability for an invitee’s injury as a result of an unsafe condition.
Further, landlords should ensure they have adequate insurance. The policy should provide liability coverage for injuries that are caused by dogs and landlords should ensure that dangerous dog breeds are not omitted from the landlord’s cover.
Speak to Our Dog Bite Lawyers in Manassas
If you have been injured by a dog bite and require legal assistance, the experienced Manassas dog bite injury lawyers at Ashcraft & Gerel can work with you to recover compensation after the incident. We can help you understand your rights and options moving forward.