To hold a dog owner liable for injuries in Virginia, the injured person must prove that the dog owner was negligent, and that their negligence instigated the incident. Negligence can be proven one of two ways. First, if the dog has previously bitten someone and the owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent other bites. Second, in jurisdictions with a leash law, the dog owner is considered to be automatically negligent for violating the leash law.
Fairfax County, Virginia does have a leash law. The code section can be found here. Section 41.1-2-4. states:
“No dog shall run unrestricted, as defined in Section 41.1-1-1, in the County. Any person who is the owner of a dog found unrestricted in the County shall be in violation of this Section. This Section shall not apply to any person who uses a dog under his direct supervision while lawfully hunting, while engaged in a supervised formal obedience training class or show, during formally sanctioned field trials, while a dog is in an area owned, leased, controlled, or operated by Fairfax County designated by resolution of the Board of Supervisors as an off-leash dog exercise area, or while a dog is in an area owned, leased, controlled, or operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority and designated by resolution of the Fairfax County Park Authority as an off-leash or dog exercise area, or while a dog is in an area, leased, controlled, or operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and designated by resolution of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Board as an off-leash or dog exercise area, or if a dog is a service animal whose handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal's safe effective performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler's control (e.g., voice control, signals, or other effective means). It is a violation of this Section for any owner of a dog to place such dog or allow it to be placed into custody of any person not physically capable of maintaining effective control of restricting such a dog.”
Altogether, a dog may be off leash on its own property, but once off the property the homeowner is legally responsible for the dog, unless the dog is in an obedience training class, is a service animal whose owner cannot place a harness or leash on the dog due to their disability, or is at a dog park designated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Board.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Fairfax Dog Bite Case?
Regardless of the intensity of the bite, you will most likely need to contact a personal injury lawyer to represent you for a dog bite case. Your lawyer will help you by finding all available insurance policies for your case and they will send the insurance company a notice of your claim. This is incredibly important because many dog owners fail to notify their insurance company of the incident, which can result in the insurance company denying you coverage later.
Having an experienced lawyer represent you earlier in the legal process can help you significantly, as you may not be able to find the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy by yourself.
In previous Fairfax County dog bite cases, our lawyers have researched land records, sent FOIA requests, and used private investigative services to locate a homeowner or a renter's liability policy.
Your personal injury lawyer should work with you and your doctors to build a case for the greatest dog bite settlement possible. The dog bite victim should prioritize their resulting medical care, and record the injury and its progress through photographs. The photographs can provide evidence for the degree of the wound, and also exhibit the intensity of scarring over time. It is usually necessary to have a plastic surgeon evaluate the wound if it is in a place that is easily visible.
How Do Insurance Companies Process Dog Bite Cases?
Dog bite injury settlements are evaluated similarly to auto accident cases because the types of damages available to the victim of a dog bite are the same. However, most of the time dog bites leave scarring, unlike auto accidents. In a typical dog bite settlement package, your personal injury lawyer is going to demand that you be compensated for:
1. Pain, Suffering, Inconvenience
2. Mental Anguish
4. Medical Costs
5. Future Medical Care for the Scar
6. Lost Wages
Something to note is that, in dog bite cases, a majority of the victims are children. Because the child is often face-to-face with the dog, they tend to be bitten more in the face and in other areas which are noticeable. When a child injury case is settled in Virginia, the Court is often involved to approve any settlements. This is because a child under the age of 18 does not have the ability to legally consent to a settlement and release the claim.
How Long Should I Wait to Settle my Child's Dog Bite Case?
Because children are mostly bitten in the face in Dog Bite Cases, their cases take longer to settle. Most plastic surgeons refuse to perform any corrective procedures on the face while the facial structure is still growing. Therefore, until the child is fully grown, a plastic surgeon may not be willing to correct the damage done by the dog. However, the statute of limitations in a child injury case is extended until two years from the day that the child turns 18, so you do not have to worry about time running out on the claim.
Our Fairfax County dog bite lawyers suggest that clients wait to settle their children's cases until the child is discharged from all medical care, is emotionally stable, and we have an estimate for any revision surgery from a plastic surgeon. Our lawyers have been successful in negotiating dog bite settlements with insurance companies that provide many years of payments to the family through annuity.
How Do I Find The Best Dog Bite Lawyer Near Me?
You can start your search for the most successful dog bite lawyer in Virginia by looking at google reviews. You can read ours at justreadthereviews.com. The right lawyers for these cases are specialists who limit their practice to injury law, as generalist lawyers fail to consistently do a good job for their clients. It is important to note that a seemingly successful lawyer with a track record of good settlements and verdicts (every lawyer has settlement results on their website) might not have received the best settlements available- a $1M settlement could have been $2.5M with a better lawyer.
You should also know, upfront, what the lawyer's strategy for handling your Fairfax County dog bite case is. How will they locate insurance coverage? What investigation will they do into the dog's prior history? How do they plan to evaluate your scars? How will they send the dog bite demand package to the insurance company?
Prioritize a law firm with great customer service. You'll be working with this firm for at least a year in most cases. Will you always have to call the firm to get an update on your case? Or will they be proactive and let you know what's going on?
We are confident that if you call and speak with our injury lawyers about your Fairfax County dog injury case, you will find that you are in the right place!