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If Your Dog Injures Someone, Are You Financially Liable?

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With the weather finally warming up Virginia residents can enjoy the outdoors again (and Brutus can sleep on the porch of our Leesburg office). For dog owners in Northern Virginia, Richmond, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Tri-Cities region, the change will be a welcome chance to take their ‘best friends’ out for fresh air and exercise, but this springtime freedom comes with some liability risk.

Every year around 800,000 people are treated for dog bites in the U.S., and more than a dozen die. Unlike many states, Virginia does not have a specific statute regarding liability for injuries caused by dog bites, but pet owners can generally be held liable for injures caused by their pet if they “should have known” the animal posed a danger to others. This is sometimes referred to as the “one bite rule,” and it means that once a dog has a history of biting, the owner will be held responsible for additional incidents.

We recommend that dog owners always take precautions with their pet in public spaces, or when interacting with guests on private property. Especially around children, it is important to be careful because the potential for longterm injury is so great, and children don’t always know how to interact properly with animals.

The ASPCA recommends the following precautions to prevent injury to children:

• Children should not approach or touch a dog who’s sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
• Children should not approach a barking, growling, or scared dog.
• Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without first asking the owner’s permission.
• Children should not try to pet dogs who are behind a fence or in a car.
• If an off-leash dog comes near a child, he/she should not run or scream, but stand still and avoid eye contact.
• If a child is knocked down by a dog, he should curl up in a ball, protecting neck and stomach areas.
• If a dog attacks, it is smart to “feed” the dog something to grab and bite, like a jacket, bag, or bike to create separation.

When dealing with a serious dog bite injury, it is important to have good legal council, especially when insurance companies are involved. As one of Virginia’s oldest and most experienced Personal Injury Law firms, Burnett & Williams helps clients navigate complex liability issues in all kinds of personal injury circumstances. Call us anytime for a free consultation: 800-969-1650.