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If a Dog Has Never Bitten Anyone Before, Does It Relieve Someone From Liability if I Am Attacked?

dog peeking through wooden fence

Your neighbor has a dog that always barks when you walk past her fenced-in yard with your kids. Despite the fact she has a fence around her yard with a big “Beware of Dog” sign on it, the dog still goes crazy every time you walk anywhere in the vicinity of her house, even if it is across the street, and this scares not only your kids, but you as well. It seems like just a matter of time before someone is hurt by this dog, which is an aggressive breed commonly used as a watchdog in the security industry.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be you. The mailman mistakenly drops off a bunch of letters addressed to your neighbor along with your mail by accident one day and, trying to be a good neighbor, you walk over to your neighbor’s house to just slip them in her mailbox. As usual, the neighbor’s dog is out and, despite your careful attempts to open her mailbox while standing as far away from the fence as possible, the dog manages to get his muzzle through the fence. He bites your hand and arm multiple times as you attempt to put the letters in her mailbox, forcing you to withdraw your bleeding hand, rush home and go to the emergency room for treatment for your injuries. Eventually you are able to recover after several surgeries, but not before racking up thousands of dollars in healthcare costs from both the hospital and your visits to a hand surgeon afterwards. Despite all the treatment, you also have some residual scarring that likely will never go away. You confront your neighbor one day about the incident, but she tells you “I am not worried. My dog has never bitten any before, so I am protected. Plus, I didn't even ask you to return those letters to me. Go ahead and sue me if you want to.”

If you go on someone else’s property and are bitten by a dog, then the fact that the dog has never bitten someone before is not a get out of jail free card for the dog’s owner. Instead, although one of the most important factors that will determine whether the dog owner is liable for that dog bite and your injuries and other damages as a result of the bite is whether the dog previously had bitten another person, this does not mean the dog’s owner cannot be sued. Instead, a jury will look at whether the dog’s owner instead took reasonable steps to restrain his or her dog, which necessarily depends upon a number of situation-specific factors. The fact that his or her dog has never bitten someone before is not quite the foolproof defense that your neighbor seems to think.

Virginia Law Regarding Dog Bites and The “One Bite Rule”

Unlike some states, Virginia does not impose strict liability upon a dog owner if the dog owner’s dog bites someone and causes injuries to him or her. Under strict liability laws, a dog owner would be liable if his or her dog bites someone regardless of whether his or her dog had a previous history of biting anyone. There is no need to prove fault on the dog owner’s part; instead the victim simply has to show that person owned the dog that attacked the victim and the victim can recover from the dog’s owner for his or her injuries.

Virginia is slightly different than some other states in instead adhering to what is known as the “one bite” rule. This rule means that a dog owner is not liable for injuries caused by a dog bite unless the dog owner knew the dog was dangerous or aggressive. This is called the one bite rule because, most often, the fact that the owner’s dog previously has bitten someone, is evidence that the dog is dangerous or aggressive. However, the fact that an owner’s dog has never bitten someone before does not mean the dog’s owner is not liable if his or her dog does bite someone. Instead, the owner’s knowledge that his or her dog is dangerous or aggressive can be shown through other evidence.

Nevertheless, the one bite rule does not mean that, even if an owner’s dog has never bitten someone before, the dog is not considered to be dangerous or aggressive such that the dog owner would be liable in the scenario above, for example. The one bite rule is not an absolute defense to any claim relating to injuries caused by a dog in Virginia. It is not a free pass that a dog owner can refuse to do anything or has no duties to keep other people safe from his or her dog. Instead, a dog owner is required to take reasonable steps in order to ensure that his or her dog is or was restrained/controlled prior to biting someone. If the dog’s owner did not take such reasonable steps, then he or she can be held liable for any injuries the dog causes to someone it bites.

As it relates to the scenario above, the dog owner could potentially be liable for several different reasons regardless of the fact that the dog had never bitten someone before. First, a jury would need to determine whether the measures that had been taken by the dog’s owner to restrain the dog were reasonable given the dog’s temperament and the particular breed given its reaction every time someone passed by the yard. The jury also would look at things like how high the fence was, whether the “Beware of Dog” signs were posted in a place that you would clearly see them and whether you did anything to provoke the dog into biting you. In short, just because the dog had never bitten anyone before you does not mean the dog’s owner is immune from a lawsuit.

Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys at Kalfus & Nachman if You or Someone You Love Has Been Injured in Virginia

At Kalfus & Nachman, our experienced Virginia personal injury attorneys have recovered millions in compensation for our clients who have been injured due to someone else’s negligence. We have represented numerous individuals who have suffered injuries as a result of a dog owner’s failure to restrain his or her dog, regardless of whether that dog had previously bitten someone previously or not. We know how to make a case that, even if someone’s dog had never bitten someone before, the dog’s owner failed to take the appropriate measures to protect others from being injured by his or her dog. Therefore, if you live in the Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach or Roanoke, Virginia, areas and have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence in failing to restrain a dangerous animal, a motor vehicle accident, or in any other scenario, then please contact Kalfus & Nachman PC by phone today at (855) 880-8163 or through the form on this page to schedule a free consultation regarding your particular situation.

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