In order to hold a dog owner liable for injuries in Virginia, the injured person must prove that the dog owner was negligent, and their negligence instigated the incident. This can be shown in one of two ways. First, if the dog has previously bitten someone and the dog owner fails 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.
Loudoun County, Virginia does have a leash law. The code section can be found here. Loudoun County Code 612.13 states:
“No dog shall be off the property of its owner or custodian without being on a leash. The owner or custodian must have physical control of the dog while it is leashed. Any dog found to be off leash and not on the property of its owner or custodian will be considered running at large, and in violation of this section. When in a securely fenced, specifically designated dog park or dog exercise area established by a homeowner's association, community organization, or governmental agency, a dog may be off leash while under the immediate supervision of its owner or custodian. Any fence enclosing such an area must be designed to prevent escape. This section shall not apply to any person who uses a dog under his/her direct supervision while lawfully hunting, or while engaged in a supervised formal obedience training class, or if the dog is a service animal whose handler, because of a disability, is unable to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or the use of such device would interfere with the service dog's safe and effective performance of work or tasks, provided that the service dog is otherwise under the handler's control through voice control, signals or other effective means or to any person with a dog under immediate control within any unincorporated area of the County zoned at a density of fewer than two housing units per acre.”
In short, a dog may be off leash on its own property, but once off the property the homeowner is legally responsible for anyone the dog bites. There are several rare exceptions for cases where the the dog is in an obedience training class, is a service animal who cannot wear a harness or leash, or is at a designated dog park built by the community or local government. But, generally speaking, if a dog off of it's owner's property is involved in a bite or dog attack, then the owner is liable to the injured party.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Loudoun Dog Bite Case?
In most cases, regardless of the significance of the bite, you will need to contact a personal injury lawyer to represent you for a dog bite case. Your lawyer will then find all available insurance policies for your case and send the insurance company a notice of your claim. This step in the process is important because many dog owners will not notify their insurance company of the incident and the insurance company can deny you coverage later because of the owner's failure to let them know sooner.
It is important to find an experienced dog bite lawyer early in the case process because you may not be able to find the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy by yourself.
In previous Loudoun 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 help build a case for the largest dog bite settlement possible. The dog bite victim needs to prioritize their medical care for the wound, and document the injury and its progress through photographs. This can provide evidence for the degree of the wound, and also show 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, dog bites usually leave scarring more often than auto accidents do. In a typical dog bite settlement package, your personal injury lawyer is going to demand that you be compensated for:
1. Medical Costs
2. Mental Anguish
3. Pain, Suffering, Inconvenience
5. Future Medical Care for the Scar
6. Lost Wages
Another important factor in dog bite cases is that a majority of dog bite 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 outwardly visible. 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 Loudoun County dog bite lawyers suggest that our 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 years and years of payments to the family by way of 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 cannot 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 will also want to know what the lawyer's strategy for handling your Loudoun 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 Loudoun County dog injury case, you will find that you are in the right place!