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Dog Bite

If you have been the victim of a dog bite, do not hesitate to file a claim or suit against the dog owner. You may be entitled to medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, or any scars or permanent injuries caused by a dog bite.

Many dog owners have homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance for protection. These forms of insurance may pay you for your injuries instead of the dog owner personally. A dog bite does not have to occur at the home of the dog owner; coverage may also be provided if the bite occurred outside the dog owner’s home.

In Virginia, an animal owner’s responsibility for injuries caused by that animal is based on negligence. See, e.g., Stout v. Bartholomew, Va. 547, 544 S.E.2d 653 (2001). This means a court will decide whether to hold that person responsible for the injury by asking whether that person should have been aware the animal was dangerous and whether that person took “reasonable” measures to prevent the animal from causing harm. Id.

In most cases, a finding of negligence depends on the facts of the case. However, this is simpler when someone has broken the law. For example, when a dog owner violates a dog leash ordinance by allowing a dog to run unleashed in a public area, he or she commits negligence per se. See Butler v. Frieden, 208 Va. 352 (1967). This means that a court must find that person negligent unless he or she had an excuse for violating the ordinance. See Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 288A (1965).

What to Do When a Dog Bites You?

If you are bitten, your health and safety should be your most immediate priority. You should consider going to a medical service provider immediately to make sure steps are taken to maintain your health.

The dog owner may insist that he or she will pay out of pocket or that his or her insurance will take care of the situation. Do not take these statements at face value: the dog owner may change his or her mind once you leave. Furthermore, the dog owner cannot know how much your medical bills and pain and suffering will be and may not be willing to compensate you for any permanent scars.

By contrast, if you call the police, they can investigate the facts of your case, make a report, and provide a record which you can later show to an insurance company or court to bolster your case.

The police should obtain the identity of the dog’s owner and dog: the dog owner may give you a false name and address, but most people are not comfortable lying to a police officer. If the dog owner was violating a dog leash ordinance, the police may charge them. If the dog owner is found guilty, then your claim will appear stronger to an insurance company or court due to the doctrine of negligence per se. Furthermore, while investigating, the police officer may be able to gather witness statements on the scene (which are difficult to obtain after the fact).

Do NOT give a recorded statement to the insurance company, as the insurance company will try to use the statement to deny your claim. Keep in mind, the insurance company will almost NEVER allow you (or your attorney) to get a recorded statement from the dog owner.

Do NOT sign a medical release authorization which allows the insurance company to obtain all your medical records.

Contact Ashburn Law Office, PLC., for a consultation.

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