Virginia dogs and the “one bite rule”
What is the one bite rule? In Virginia, if someone is bitten by a dog, the owner will typically not be found liable unless the dog has bitten someone before, in which case a presumption of negligence arises. Before we discuss possible exceptions to the one bite rule, it is interesting to note that this rule arguably came from Moses in the book of Exodus. Moses laid down the law that if a bull gores someone and kills him, the owner will not be found liable. However, if the bull had been in the habit of goring, and the owner after being warned did not pen it up, the owner would be killed, unless he paid full restitution.
Now, we do not espouse killing dog owners who allow their dogs to bite people, but we do advocate obtaining full restitution. Just because a dog has never bitten someone before is not a bar to recovery –it just does not carry a presumption of negligence. The one bite rule makes it easier if the dog has bitten someone before, but it is no bar to recovery. For an extreme example, let’s say a man owns an 85 lb. male pit bull, and he allows it to run around in a play ground with two year olds while he is smoking a cigarette down the block, that would be a situation where we feel we could recover. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that drastic.
The law does not say that you only can win a dog bite case if the one bite rule is met. What it says is that once the dog has bitten there is a presumption of negligence, and so it is very easy to win. Good lawyers don’t just take easy cases, they take good cases, whether easy or not. If someone is mauled by an aggressive dog, he or she should call a lawyer and get competent advice.
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