Virginia Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When is the owner liable for dog bite injuries in a personal injury claim or lawsuit in Virginia?

In this article, we examine some key points of Virginia dog bite law. We'll look at the state's time limits for filing a dog bite injury lawsuit in court and its status as a "one bite rule" state. We'll also examine how Virginia's contributory negligence rule might affect a dog bite case. Finally, we'll look at some defenses a dog owner might raise when facing a lawsuit.

Time Limits for Dog Bite Injury Lawsuits

Like every state, Virginia sets a time limit on filing personal injury cases -- including dog bite and dog-related injury cases -- in its courts. In Virginia, an injured person has two years to file a claim after an injury occurs, according to the state's statute of limitations.

The two-year statute of limitations typically starts to run on the date the injury occurs. If the lawsuit isn't filed in court within two years of that date, the court may refuse to hear the lawsuit at all. So, it's critical to understand precisely how Virginia's statute of limitations applies to your particular dog bite case and to file a claim before the deadline.

Virginia's "One Bite" Rule for Dog Injuries

Virginia has a "one bite" rule for dog bite injuries. This rule holds that a dog's owner is only liable for injuries if the owner knew the dog was dangerous or aggressive. It's called the "one bite" rule because, in most cases, the evidence presented that the owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous is evidence that the dog has already bitten at least one other person.

However, those injured by a dog bite are allowed to present other types of evidence as well to show that the owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous or aggressive.

States that do not use the "one bite" rule typically apply a "strict liability" rule instead. In these states, dog owners are responsible for any injuries their dogs cause, regardless of whether the dog has caused injuries in the past and regardless of whether or not the owners knew the dog might cause injuries.

Virginia's "Negligence Per Se" Rule for Dog Injuries

Virginia requires dog owners to use "reasonable care" in restraining and controlling their dogs, whether or not the owner knows the dog is dangerous, and the law allows those injured by dogs to bring a negligence claim to seek damages. An injured person may be able to recover if he or she can demonstrate that the injury resulted from the owner's failure to use reasonable care to restrain or handle the dog.

One way a dog bite injury victim in Virginia might demonstrate negligence is by showing that the owner failed to obey an applicable leash law or ordinance. In these situations, known as "negligence per se," the fact that the owner violated the leash law is enough to establish negligence, because failure to follow the leash law is considered to be a failure to take "reasonable care."

Defenses for Dog Owners

A dog owner in Virginia might raise several defenses when facing a dog bite case. In addition to the argument that the owner did not know the dog might bite, the owner might raise the defense of contributory negligence.

"Contributory negligence" argues that the injured person was partly or totally at fault for his or her own injuries. For instance, in a dog bite case, the dog's owner might argue that the injured person was provoking the dog or trespassed in spite of a "Beware of Dog" sign, and that therefore the injured person was only hurt because he or she failed to take reasonable care.

Virginia is one of a handful of states that bars any recovery for an injured person if he or she was in any way responsible for the injury. If an injured person is found to be partly at fault, the damages award drops to zero automatically, and the injured person is barred from collecting any damages from other at-fault parties.

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