Dogs are man’s best friend. But, unfortunately, they can cause severe and debilitating injuries. If you’re a dog bite victim here in Northern Virginia, you need the right attorney to navigate our complex injury laws.
At Abrenio Law, we’ve been representing dog bite victims for over a decade. We’ve successfully guided families through catastrophic claims, and we understand the law. Take some time to review Abrenio Law’s Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) about Virginia Dog Bite Claims, and give us a call at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your FREE Consultation.
I’ve heard something about a “One Bite” Rule. What does that mean, and why does it matter?
Under Virginia’s “One Bite” Rule, you will have difficulty recovering for dog bite injuries if the dog that attacked you is not known to have previously injured a person or companion animal. That means that if you’re a dog’s first victim, you may lose no matter how devastating your injuries.
Why? It’s reasoned that an owner can’t be negligent in their handling of a dog without knowledge of prior attacks because they have no “notice” of the dog’s propensity for danger.
You may be asking yourself, “how is this possible, James? Show me the statute where this is written in Virginia law.” Remarkably, Virginia’s One Bite Rule is not a statute developed by our legislatures. Instead, it originates from “Common Law,” which is a body of law created by the courts over generations. The closest provision is Virginia Code Section 3.2-6540, which defines what a “dangerous dog” means.
If the One Bite Rule appears to bar you from recovery, you should still seek out attorney advice to see if there are other avenues in your case. And keep reading here!
What if the dog that bit me never bit another person (or another dog) before? (A discussion of local ordinances).
There are other possible paths to hold a dog owner liable for your injuries. The first is if the owner violated a local ordinance created to prevent dog attacks. Indeed, many localities have “leash laws” that require dogs to be secured by their owners to protect the public. If you were injured due to a violation of one of these ordinances, then it’s negligence per se (meaning automatically). See in Butler v. Frieden, 208 Va. 352 (Va. 1967) (owner liable for four-year-old being attacked by an unleashed dog despite local ordinance forbidding dogs to be unleashed because the law was meant to protect the public).
Other localities have ordinances that weren’t intended to “protect the public,” but a violation of them lead to your injury. That’s what the Court found happened in Bartholomew, 261 Va. 547, 544 S.E.2d 653 (Va. 2001). There, an Arlington County Ordinance required that a dog not be allowed to roam “at large.” In that case, a dog breached an electronic fence and injured a passing motorcyclist. Because the Court found that the ordinance wasn’t merely to protect the public, the owner wasn’t negligent “per se” for the dog attack. And it went on further to find that the injury victim was barred from recovery because the owner took “reasonable steps “in employing the electronic fence because it had worked to keep prior dogs contained.
Therefore, if you were injured in a dog attack despite there being a local ordinance that should have protected you, give Abrenio Law a call to discuss your case.
What if I was a customer, and the business owner specifically invited me to check out the dog?
There are other possible instances where there may be additional duties imposed upon an owner who wasn’t explicitly aware of a dog’s prior attacks. For instance, if an owner is trying to sell an animal, and is aware that the dog is aggressive. While this hasn’t been litigated in Virginia courts, it’s something to be aware of if you suffer an injury when trying to buy a dog.
What if I taunted or provoked the dog before it bit me?
Like every Virginia Personal Injury claim, “Contributory Negligence” applies to dog bite cases. Under that rule, if an injury victim is only 1% at fault for their injury, but the other party is 99% at fault, the injury victim is barred from recovery. Stated another way, if you are at fault AT ALL for your injuries, you lose. (Read more about Contributory Negligence here).
In dog bite cases, this would apply for situations where you were taunting or provoking the dog. Even in cases where you weren’t malicious, and only “playing around,” it’s likely that an insurance company will claim that you contributed to your injury. Therefore, you need to be upfront about this with us if it applies in your case. Issues like this only get amplified as a case matures.
What can I claim in my Dog Bite case?
If you have a claim where you can hold a dog owner liable for your injuries, your dog bite claim is like any other personal injury claim in Virginia. You can seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, as well as pain, suffering, and inconvenience. If you have scars, you can also seek compensation for the pain that causes you too. For an in depth discussion of damages you can claim in your Virginia dog bite case, click here.
Now, to determine what exactly your claim is worth, it is a complex analysis. At least here in Northern Virginia, juries tend to be conservative. And should there be a possible liability defense (based upon the issues discussed above), it may put you in a position that warrants considering a compromise settlement.
For Abrenio Law to evaluate the value of your claim, we will need to discuss the case with you directly. Reach out to us for your FREE Consultation at Ph. 703-570-4180.
If I have a dog bite claim, who pays?
In many instances, homeowners and renter insurance policies cover claims for dog bite claims. Therefore, at Abrenio Law, we would do our best to find an avenue for insurance money to resolve your claim.
It doesn’t seem right to make a claim against my neighbor. I feel bad.
To be clear, at Abrenio Law, except in extraordinary circumstances, we won’t accept a case if there is no insurance to cover your claim. That’s because, in our experience, people that don’t have insurance don’t have money sitting around to pay you for your injuries. And we find it unproductive for everyone to try to collect against an individual with limited or no resources.
Therefore, if there is insurance money, pursuing a dog bite claim is primarily a financial transaction. You’re not seeking to punish anyone, but to be reimbursed for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain endured as a result of a dog attack. When pursuing these claims, be it against a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger, they should understand that they put you through a lot. And that’s why they bought insurance in the first place!
You shouldn’t feel bad about taking the actions you need. And if the other person is offended, it’s their fault in not empathizing with your pain.
What should I do if I was just attacked by a dog?
Of course, the first two things you should do is seek medical care and reach out to a lawyer. By getting the treatment you need, you maximize your chance of a full recovery. By speaking to an attorney, you place yourself in the best position to protect your rights.
In the meantime, here are few other tips:
Take photographs of your injuries (and continue to document them throughout recovery). The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true. And that is especially correct when it comes to dog bite cases. If you ever must litigate your case with an insurance company or present your injuries to a jury, these photographs can be the most compelling pieces of evidence.
Find out who owns the dog. Typically, when you seek compensation for a dog bite case, you will pursue homeowner’s insurance. However, to do that, you must know who owns the dog. If you know the owner already, then great. If not, you, law enforcement, or your attorney will have some work to do.
Ask whether the dog has attacked anyone else before. The “One Bite Rule” can be devastating for an injury case. By the time you get attorneys and investigators involved, the owner has learned Virginia’s laws. While they may be your friend, in my experience, owners cease open communication once they learn about a possible insurance claim.
Therefore, it’s best to ask questions early, while wounds are fresh and compassion still lingers. These early stages in a case may be the only time you get open, honest communication. You need not be aggressive, simply inform them that you just want to know what happened and why you were the victim.
Call Animal Control. Once you have done your best to get as much information as possible, you should make sure that you have reported the attack to your local Animal Control. This is important because they will conduct their own investigation, which may reveal important information about the case. It will also ensure that there is a documented history in the event that someone else is attacked later.
Still have questions about your Virginia Dog Bite Claim? Give us a call.
At Abrenio Law, we understand how overwhelming this process can be. Hopefully, the above has provided you a lot of information. But when you’re ready, reach out to us for your FREE Consultation. You can call us at Ph. 703-570-4180. You can also check out Owner James Abrenio here. We look forward to hearing from you.