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When is a Virginia dog owner liable for a bite?

A dog owner may be liable for injuries caused by the pet when the attack is unprovoked, the dog has a history of biting and the animal was not restrained.

It is not uncommon for a Virginia resident to be bit by a dog, cat or another animal. According to Dogsbite.org, roughly 1,000 people across the United States are treated in an emergency room for injuries caused by a dog bite each day. It can be hard for dog owners and dog-bite victims to understand who is liable for a pet's actions because the state follows a one-free-bite protocol. Usually, a dog owner is not liable for wounds caused by a bite if the animal has never attacked a person or another pet before.

The attack is unprovoked

When a canine attacks a person or another pet for no reason, the owner could be held liable for the injuries sustained in the incident. For example, if a young adult walks past the home of the dog on the sidewalk, any attack made on that person would be classified as unprovoked. However, if the young adult taunted the dog by throwing rocks during his or her walk, a judge may classify the incident differently. There are a few situations where a dog may be justified in biting a human, such as the following:

  • A person was tormenting or abusing the animal.
  • An outsider was harming the owner of the dog.
  • A person was willfully trespassing on the property of the owner.

If an animal attacks without provocation, it is more likely the owner can be held accountable for the bite.

The dog is known to be dangerous

After a pet has attacked someone, the owner is more likely to be liable for any following bites. According to the state of Virginia, a dog is deemed dangerous when it has killed a companion animal or inflicted serious injury on a human. If a dog is classified as dangerous, the owner may be expected to take extra precautions in the care of the animal to ensure it does not cause harm again.

The animal is not properly contained

Finally, the owner is expected to properly contain his or her animals. If this does not happen, he or she can be held responsible for any damages done to a human or another pet. For example, if a dog is allowed to roam off leash, the owner is responsible for most bites that take place during that time. A proper enclosure needs to be secure and high enough to stop the animal from getting out. Some owners may have to put warning signs on their fences to let passersby know to be careful around their dog.

If a dog bite takes place in Virginia, the owner and victim may be scrambling to understand who is responsible for the injuries sustained. It can be helpful to work with an attorney who is familiar with dog bite cases.

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