If an aggressive dog has harmed you or a loved one, you may have a personal injury claim. Virginia law outlines certain protections for dogs in the state, but owners are still legally obligated to show due care to avoid incidents — particularly when they have reason to believe that the dog may be dangerous.
Understanding the process and criteria for personal injury claims when it comes to dog bites may help you make a decision about how to proceed after an incident.
Ruling a dog dangerous
A court in Virginia can declare a dog dangerous if it inflicted significant harm a person or another domestic dog or cat. Should a person bring a reasonable petition against a dog, an officer will generally place it in custody for the duration of any proceedings. If a judge rules in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant will need to register the dog as dangerous with a local animal control office. A court will likely order restitution to the plaintiff and payment for the dog’s care while in custody; judges may require additional consequences when necessary and have a fair amount of decision power when correcting a situation.
Bringing a negligence claim
Even if a dog is not particularly vicious, you may still be able to make a claim of negligence. Pet owners must comply with reasonable expectations such as keeping the animal leashed in public or fenced in their yard. If the incident occurred on your property or in a public area due to the owner’s negligence, you may still be eligible for restitution.
Protections for animals
Virginia law provides protections for animals in some cases — for instance, if the plaintiff somehow provoked, attacked or mistreated the dog before the bite, explicit protections would apply. The law similarly protects working police dogs and dogs engaged in certain legal activities such as hunting. State law also prohibits discrimination based solely on a dog’s breed.
After an attack, a peace officer will typically want to examine the wound and determine that it is significant and not superficial. Because of this, the sooner you act, the better your chance will be for a successful outcome.