Vicious Dog Attacks and the Law

While this pair of pooches seem harmless, if they have a prior history of attacks, bites or even aggressive conduct, in Virginia, that can lead to legal liability for their owners. Even though this Commonwealth does not have “strict liability” laws in place for dog attack cases, prior similar bad acts can lead to legal responsibility for the animal owners.

In order for an owner of a dog to be held responsible for a bite, knock down or other vicious attack, there must be evidence of the dog’s dangerous propensities. In Virginia, it is often said that every dog gets one free bite. In other words, the owner of the dog cannot be said to know about the canine’s danger until it has actually bitten someone.

Other states where attorney Doug Landau practices, like New Jersey, have a strict liability statute that says the dog owner is responsible for the bite attacks and injuries that it causes, unless the plaintiff was guilty of tormenting the dog, trespassing on the owner’s property or some other violation of law.

A recent case reviewed by Landau illustrates some of the theories advanced by innocent victims attacked by vicious dogs. In this case, the plaintiff pled:

1. Negligence per se under the state vicious law statute,

2. Breach of the duty to protect a guest from an animal known to vicious tendencies,

3. Common law negligence, and

4. Premises liability.

Lawyer Landau explains:

1. “Negligence per se” means that the defendant violated the law, statute or code section that was put in place to protect people just like the injured plaintive. If the plaintiff can show that the defendant broke this law, the negligence in the case, or “fault,” is presumed. This makes it much easier for a plaintive to get to a jury, and ultimately, a favorable verdict.

2. In order to win a personal injury case, the injured dog attack victim must not only show that there was a duty to protect or warn the innocent plaintiff, but that the defendant breached or violated this legal duty. If there was no duty, or the defendant did not breach that duty, then the plaintiff will not be able to get to the jury, and a defense verdict will likely result.

3. “Common law negligence” is what most people understand a personal injury case to be all about. In a common law negligence case, the injured dog attack victim must show that there was a duty to exercise reasonable care for their safety and protection. The person that was bitten by the dog must next prove that the defendant breached this legal duty. The next step is that the dog bite victim must put on evidence showing that the breach, by the defendant dog owner, caused the attack. Lastly, the injured dog attack plaintiff must show that there is no legal defense and that the damages are as a proximate result of this defendant’s unsafe conduct (negligence).

4. In a premises liability case, the injured victim is going after the person who either owns, manages or maintains the property where the injury took place. The landowner has several legal duties under Virginia Law. First, for those people that are invited on to the property (called “invitees”), the landowner or occupier has a high duty of care. For someone who is a mere licensee, or passing through, but not at the imitation of the owner, there is a lesser legal requirement. And lastly, for trespassers, there is an even lower standard of care for the landowner. Doug Landau and his father Norman Landau wrote over a thousand pages of the three volume set of books for trial lawyers on this topic, “Premises Liability: Law and Procedure.” These cases can be very technical, and there are special laws that apply for injured dog bite victim’s cases.

If you or someone you know was injured in a dog attack due to no fault of your own, please give us a call (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd.