Dogs are considered man’s best friend, but sometimes they can turn into man’s worst nightmare. Dog bites and attacks can often have a tragic effect on a person both physically and mentally. However, collecting on damages caused by dogs is not as cut and dry as you may think.
The owner of a dog is legally responsible for any damages caused by that dog only if the owner was aware the dog was dangerous, aggressive or had propensity for viciousness. This is often referred to as the “One Bite Rule” in Virginia since the injured party must provide evidence that the owner of a dog knew the dog had previously bitten a person or showed aggressiveness or viciousness towards a person or other animal. If this cannot be proven, the dog gets one free bite and the owner cannot be held responsible for any injuries or medical bills sustained by the victim of the bite or attack. In addition, unlike most automobile cases where automobile insurance companies pay damages on behalf of its negligent insureds, many times insurance is not involved in cases involving dogs even when an owner is found negligent for the actions of the dog. A common example of this is when a renter owns a dangerous animal without the knowledge of the landlord, does not purchase renter’s insurance, and that animal attacks someone. While a landlord can be held liable if he or she knew of a dangerous condition on the property at issue and did nothing to protect a person lawfully coming on the property, most of the time a landlord is unaware of the dangers presented by the tenant’s animal. This results in the injured person seeking restitution from the owner personally which is a very difficult proposition and often results in the injured person receiving no compensation for his or her damages.
Despite these difficulties, Virginia law does allow compensation to those injured by dogs in most circumstances. If an owner allows a dog to roam in violation of Virginia’s leash laws and that dog causes an injury to another person or animal, the owner of the dog can be found negligent even if the dog has had no prior incidents. An individual can also collect for the emotional distress caused by a vicious encounter with a dog resulting in injury as many times that person loses trust in all dogs. Finally, most homeowner insurances will cover payments to an injured person if an injury from a dog occurs on or off the property of the home/dog owner. However, the policy should always be checked as some homeowner policies now exclude coverage for certain breeds of dogs with reputations for viciousness.