Many states have dog-bite statutes in place to assign liability if someone else’s dog attacks you. Virginia, as well as 18 other states, does not have dog bite statutes in place. Therefore, the common law rule more widely known as the “one-bite rule” determines who is liable and who is responsible for paying the high cost of damages.
The “one-bite rule” dates back to the early days of common law in England, and states that each dog gets “one free bite” for which the owner is not liable in civil court. So if you are the first victim of a dog in Virginia, it is likely that you will have no recovery against the dog’s owner. But an owner who knows that his dog is dangerous or has previously bitten someone, must take action to prevent the foreseeable injury—or be prepared to pay for it.
There are many people that think this law is outdated and unfair for dog bite victims. The dog bite laws in Virginia essentially tells dog owners that they do not need to take care to ensure that their animal is well-behaved, and that they are not responsible for injuries their dog causes unless it has already struck once. Making matters worse, dog owners can also escape liability if they can show contributory negligence on the part of the victim. Contributory negligence is an 18th century doctrine that now only prevails in 4 states. It states that if victims are somewhat at fault, even 1%, then they have no legal right whatsoever to recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, or any other damage suffered because of a dog bite.
There are two exceptions to the “one-bite rule:”
- If the victim can demonstrate that the dog’s owner was negligent in the handling of his animal
- If the dog owner violated another law, such as the leash law, which constitutes negligence per se
Whether or not a dog owner knew of his dog’s dangerous propensity, or whether they have bitten someone previously, the owner will be held liable if the victim is injured due to the owner’s negligence. Dog owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent members of society from being hurt by their dogs. If the owner’s actions or inactions do not measure up to the ordinary standard of care, and the injuries a victim sustained were reasonably foreseeable, then the owner will be held liable.
Negligence Per Se
Virginia adheres to the doctrine of negligence per se in situations where a dog inflicts injury upon a person, and the dog owner is in violation of a leash law or another ordinance designed to protect the public from personal injuries inflicted by domestic animals. With negligence per se, the main basis for liability is the violation of a statute.
Unlike ordinary negligence, the injured party does not need to prove that a reasonable person should have acted differently since the owner’s conduct of breaking specific ordinances is automatically considered to be negligent. Therefore the focus of the claim shifts to whether the dog owner’s conduct proximately caused the damage to the victim.
If you or a loved one has been hurt, don’t go it alone. Speak with a Virginia dog bite lawyer.