West Virginia has a specific statute that covers some dog bite cases, while other cases are governed by the state's common (or court-made) law. In this article we'll look at both types of dog bite law in West Virginia. We'll also examine the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a West Virginia court, and we'll talk about the defenses available to dog owners who these kinds of legal claims.
West Virginia's statute of limitations limits the amount of time an injured person has to file a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system. West Virginia's time limit falls two years after the date of the injury in most situations.
Cases that are filed after the two-year deadline has passed are nearly always thrown out by the court, so it's important to carefully mind the deadline in order to protect your right to your "day in court."
West Virginia's dog bite statute, section 19-20-13 of the West Virginia Code, imposes strict liability on the owner or keeper of a dog that causes injury after its owner or keeper has allowed it to run at large.
In this context, "strict liability" means that the injured person does not have to prove that the owner or keeper knew the dog would act aggressively or cause injuries. The fact that the owner or keeper let the dog run at large and the dog caused injury is enough to make the owner or keeper responsible for damages.
If a dog causes injury on the owner's property, or because someone other than the owner or keeper allowed the dog to run at large, West Virginia's strict liability dog bite statute does not apply. Instead, the injured person must bring a case based either on negligence principles or on West Virginia's "one bite rule."
Under the one bite rule, the injured person must prove not only that the dog caused the injury, but that the owner knew (or had reason to know) the dog was dangerous. Without this knowledge, the owner cannot typically be held liable for the injuries the dog caused, even if serious harm or death resulted.
A dog owner facing a dog bite lawsuit in West Virginia may raise one of a number of defenses.
First, because West Virginia's dog bite statute requires the owner or keeper to have allowed the dog to run at large, the first defense many dog owners raise is either that the dog was not running "at large" or that, if the dog was running at large, the owner was not the one who allowed it to do so. While this argument does not absolve the owner of responsibility for the injuries, it does require the injured person to prove the owner knew or should have known the dog would act aggressively.
One specific instance in which the "at large" argument applies is if the injured person was trespassing on property belonging to the dog's owner or keeper when the injury occurred. Property owner liability for trespasser injuries is limited in many contexts. Here, it is limited by the West Virginia dog bite statute: if the dog was on its owner's property when it injured a trespasser, it was not "at large."
If the dog's owner can demonstrate that the dog was not "at large" and that the "one bite rule" applies, he or she may be able to avoid liability by proving that the owner didn't know and couldn't reasonably have known the dog would act in a way that caused injury.
Other legal defenses might apply to a dog bite case as well. Learn more about Common Defenses in Personal injury Cases.