John Singleton Ken Gibson
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Lawyers for Dog Bite Victims in Virginia

Helping those injured by dogs

More than 4 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. More than half of these incidents involve a dog that the victim knew somewhat. Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are most likely to be bitten.

In 2015, more than 15,000 dog bite claims resulted in insurance payouts to victims totaling $571 million in the United States. In 2016, claims jumped to more than 18,000, with payouts exceeding $600 million.

Eastern Virginia residents have reported several recent dog bite incidents, according to the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal.

And dogs can cause more injuries than just bites. Dogs can knock people down, or run out and cause a bike rider to fall off a bike. Dogs harming humans or other pets is a concern for everyone. Whether you own a dog or know a dog, the numbers don’t lie: dogs can injure.

But who is responsible if a dog harms someone? Hint: it’s not the dog.

Where did “dog attack” laws come from?

The United States’ laws dealing with dogs began in England and were continued here, according to common law. Virginia still adheres to some of the original English rules today.

Since the beginning of our country, people who have owned animals have been held responsible for injuries caused by their pets if they knew (or should have known) that the animal was dangerous.

Most of our new country followed a “one-bite rule,” meaning that owners were not legally responsible for the first attack of their dog. But authorities could take action if a similar incident happened again.

What are the rules for dog attacks today?

Today, dog owners are still held responsible for harm caused by their dogs:

  1. The so-called “one-bite” law. Still in effect, this law states that a dog owner is responsible for injuries his dog causes if he knew the dog might cause that type of injury.

    But, it isn’t necessarily true that every dog gets a “free bite.” The first bite DOES put the owner “on notice” that his dog may dangerous.

    However, the dog could also have growled threateningly, snapped, or jumped on someone in the past, which could also be considered warnings. And these warnings could be used in court to prove the owner knew his dog might injure someone.
  2. Unreasonable carelessness. Also known as “negligence.” If a dog’s owner doesn’t take steps to control his dog, he’ll likely be held responsible if the dog causes damage. For example, if there’s a hole in the owner’s fence that needs repair, and his dog escapes and bites a child, the dog’s owner can be held liable in court.

Similarly, many states require dogs to be kept on a leash when outside and also to be registered. In Virginia, there is no statewide leash law, but localities can enact leash laws at their discretion.

Today, dog owners in extreme cases of harm may even face criminal charges.

How does Virginia define a “dangerous dog”?

The Code of Virginia defines a dangerous dog as a canine that has caused injury to a human, cat, or other dog.

Dogs that attack other dogs or cats are only “dangerous” in certain circumstances.

Courts have some discretion when declaring a dog “dangerous,” based on the situation. Dogs are allowed to forcefully defend their owners from people who are willfully trespassing, or attempting or committing a crime. Further, a dog won’t be considered dangerous if it is responding to provocation, or being tormented, abused, or assaulted.

Notably, Virginia law does NOT classify a dog as dangerous based solely on its breed.

Once a court declares a dog to be dangerous, its owner has 45 days to register the dog and pay a $150 fee. After that, the dog must wear a tag identifying it as dangerous. The dog must remain indoors or be securely enclosed to prevent escape or direct contact with people and other animals. When off the owner’s property, the dangerous dog must be secured with a leash and muzzle.

But a dog bite case can still be pursued even if the dog wasn’t previously classified dangerous, as explained above. The owner could also could have been warned in other ways that his dog could be dangerous.

What do you need to know about dog attacks?

  1. Most bites happen close to home. Statistically, you or your family are likely to be attacked near your house or in your neighborhood. Most victims are somewhat familiar with the dog that attacked them.
  2. Most injuries are covered by homeowners insurance. Serious dog-related injuries can cause big medical bills. The good news? The dog owner’s insurance policy typically covers these costs.

If you or a loved one is harmed by a dog, what should you do?

Dogs aren’t to blame: they’re just animals, acting the way animals do because of instinct, training, or previous treatment. But the dangers from some dogs are real. So be aware and keep your family, yourself, and your pets as safe as possible.

If you or a loved one is hurt by a dog, you may be entitled to costs for your medical expenses, missed work, pain, and more. At GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys, we help people who have been injured through no fault of their own. For a free consultation, contact us today at (804) 413-6777.

Call our Eastern Virginia office today for a free consultation
at (804) 413-6777 or toll free (855) 781-6777.

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Community service

Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    John speaks at Gloucester’s Senior Safety Fair, reviewing key legal documents.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.
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