Virginia, as a state, has very tough law when it comes to individuals getting compensation for their injuries. Dog bite law is no exception. Virginia is one of the few states in the country that allows a dog “one free bite.” This means that the first time a dog bites someone in Virginia – no matter what the dog’s owner has done (or has failed to do) in order to prevent the bite – the injured person gets zero recovery.
Why is this? Because under Virginia law, an owner is not judged to know their dog’s violent propensities until he has actually bitten someone. A dog bite case, at its roots, is a negligence case. The basic elements of a negligence case are:
- There was a duty owed by one person to another person;
- There was a breach of that duty;
- As a result of that breach, an injury occurred.
So, in a Virginia dog bite case, the duty owed by the owner is to keep other people safe from his dog. However, the owner does not have a duty to prevent dog bites until he knows that the dog is a violent dog. It is not until after the first bite that any “duty” is created. This is unfair, but it is the rule in Virginia…
… With One Big Exception
The exception to the one bite rule is when the city or county that you live in has enacted a “leash law.” If your locality has a law that says that owners must keep their dogs on the leash, then that law creates the duty from #1 above. In one of those localities, if the dog is off the leash and bites someone, liability exists. Luckily, in most areas in northern Virginia, cities have enacted leash laws. However, as you get out into more rural and less densely populated areas, these laws do not exist and injured victims are left without any recourse for their medical bills, lost wages or pain and suffering.
A Virginia dog bite lawyer can help you determine whether you were attacked by a dog in an area that has a leash law or whether more investigation into the dog’s prior bite history will be necessary in order for you to bring an action against the dog’s owner. You will want to speak with an attorney sooner than later, because there is a time limit for filing a dog bite case in the Commonwealth of Virginia.