In order to hold a dog owner liable for injuries in Virginia, an injured person has to prove that the dog owner was negligent and that the negligence caused the bite. 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, the owner is liable for the additional bites. Second, in jurisdictions with a leash law, the dog owner is considered to be automatically negligent for violating the leash law.
Prince William County, Virginia does have a leash law. The code section can be found here. Prince William County Code 4-23(a) states:
"It shall be unlawful for the owner of any dog, except dogs used for hunting, to permit or allow such dog to run or be at large within the county, For the purposes of this section, a dog shall be deemed to be "at large" when off the property or premises of its owner or custodian and not under the control of the owner or custodian or his agent, either by leash, cord or chain. "Property or premises of its owner," for purposes of this section, shall not refer to townhouse, condominium or RPC property held in common."
Simply put, a dog may be off a leash on its own property, but once it leaves the homeowners land, the homeower is liable for anyone that the dog bites.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Virginia Dog Bite Case?
In almost all cases with a bite of any significance, you will want a personal injury lawyer to represent you for your dog bite case. The lawyer will locate any available insurance policies for your case and put the insurance company on notice of a claim. This is important because many dog owners will not let their insurance company know that the dog was involved in an attack and the insurance company may deny coverage later because of the owner's failure to promptly notify the carrier.
It is also important to find a lawyer early in the case because you may not be able to locate the dog owner's homeowner's insurance policy on your own. In previous Prince William 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 will work with you and your doctors to help build the case for the largest dog bite settlement available. The most important thing for the dog bite victim to do is get prompt medical care for the wound. After the wound is stablized, you should document the injury and its progress through photographs. This will show how bad the scarring is over time. It is usually appropriate to have a plastic surgeon evaluate the wound if it is in a place that is easily visible.
How Do Insurance Companies Evaluate Dog Bite Cases?
Dog bite injury settlements are evalauted similarly to auto accident cases because the categories of damages available to the injured person are the same. However, dog bites tend to leave scarring more often than auto accidents do. In a typical dog bite demand package, your personal injury lawyer is going to ask that you be compensated for:
- Medical Costs
- Lost Wages
- Pain, Suffering, Inconvenience
- Future Medical Care for the Scar
- Mental Anguish
The other aspect of dog bite cases that is unique is that the victims of dog bites are overwhelmingly children. Because the child is on the same level as the dog and often face-to-face with the dog, they also tend to be bitten more in the face or in other areas which are readily visible to the public. When a child injury case is settled in Virginia, the Court is often involved to approve the settlement. This occurs because a child under the age of 18 does not have the legal ability to consent to a settlement and release the claim.
How Long Should I Wait to Settle my Child's Dog Bite Case?
Again, because children are overwhelmingly bitten by dogs in the facial area, their cases take longer to settle. Most plastic surgeons will not want to perform any corrective procedures to the face while the facial structure is still growing. So, until the child is fully grown, a plastic surgeon may not be willing to correct the scar. For this reason, many child dog bite cases last a long time. (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 Prince William dog bite lawyers suggest that our clients wait to settle their children's cases until the child is discharged from all medical care, seems emotionally "back to normal," 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?
We suggest that you start your search for the best dog bite lawyer in Virginia by looking at google reviews. You can read ours at justreadthereviews.com. What you're looking for is a specialist who limits his practice to injury law. This field has become way too specialized for generalists to consistently do a good job for their clients. By the way - you are not only a successful lawyer with a track record of good settlements and verdicts (every lawyer has settlement results on their website - but you have no way of knowing whether that $1M settlement would have been $2.5M with a better laywer).
You'll also want to know what the lawyer's early strategy for handling your Prince William 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?
Increasingly, you should also be looking for a law firm with great customer service. You'll be working with this lawyer 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 proactively let you know what's going on?
We are confident that if you call and speak with our injury lawyers about your Prince William dog injury case, you will find that you are in the right place!