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Virginia Dog Bite Laws

You've just been bitten by the neighbor's dog, even though you were minding your own business (on your side of the property line), and now you need emergency medical care. Is your neighbor liable for your injuries? It depends on several factors, including the question of whether the dog has bitten people in the past. The following is an overview of Virginia's dog bite laws, including liability, per se negligence claims, and more.

Virginia Dog Bites: Liability and Negligence

Virginia has a "one bite" rule with respect to dog bite injuries, which means a plaintiff may recover for injuries if the owner knew or should have known their dog was dangerous (such as proof of a previous incident). But plaintiffs also may file a negligence claim if the owner failed to use reasonable care, such as restraining their dog in accordance with local leash laws.

Virginia Dog Bite Laws at a Glance

When you're in pain and missing work -- and considering a lawsuit -- the last thing you have the patience for is deciphering the meaning of legal statutes. The following is a summary to help you understand the main points of Virginia's dog bite laws, with links to applicable statutes.


Virginia Code, Title 3.2, Section 6540, et seq.

Virginia's "One Bite" Rule for Dog Bites

Plaintiffs may present evidence that the owner knew or should have known that their dog was dangerous, such as testimony by someone who was previously bitten by the dog.

If this evidence is accepted as truthful, then the owner may be held liable for injuries to the plaintiff.

"Negligence Per Se" Claims for Careless Dog Owners

Even if the dog has never bitten or injured anyone before, a plaintiff may sue for damages if they're able to prove that the owners failed to use reasonable (or "due") care in controlling their dog(s).

For instance, someone who's bitten by a dog whose owner fails to follow an applicable leash law may sue under the legal theory of "negligence per se." In other words, the very fact that they failed to use a leash is considered negligent.

Statutory Definition of "Dangerous" Dog

In Virginia law, the term "dangerous dog" means:

  1. A dog that has bitten, attacked, or caused injury to a companion animal (dog or cat); or
  2. A dog that has bitten, attacked, or caused injury to a person.

A dog is not considered dangerous if:

  • A veterinarian determines that the dog or cat hasn't suffered a "serious injury" as a result of the attack, both animals are owned by the same person, or the attack occurred on the property of the attacking dog's owner; or
  • A peace officer or animal control officer determines that the injury inflicted on a human is a "single nip or bite resulting only in a scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury."
Legal Procedures for Dogs Known to be Dangerous

If a peace officer or animal control officer has reason to believe a dog is dangerous, they may apply for issuance of a summons requiring the owner to appear in court at a specified time.

The dog shall be confiscated and confined in order to protect the public until the case is adjudicated. If the dog is found to be dangerous, the court may order any of the following:

  • Payment of restitution to a person injured or the owner of an animal injured or killed by the dog; and/or
  • Payment of all reasonable expenses for caring and providing for the dog while in custody.

Owners of dogs determined to be dangerous must register their dog with the local animal control office within 30 days.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims
  • Owner didn't know the dog might bite;
  • The injured person was at least partially at fault for their injuries (thus barring recovery);
  • The injured person was trespassing; or
  • The injured person provoked the dog.
Time Limit for Filing Claim

2 years (Virginia Civil Statute of Limitations) for personal injury claims and 5 years for injury to personal property.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • Virginia Code - FindLaw's hosted version of the Code of Virginia and Constitution.
  • Virginia Laws - FindLaw's summaries of select Virginia laws, including criminal, injury, employment, family, and small business laws.

Virginia Dog Bites: Related Resources

Need to File a Dog Bite Claim in Virginia? An Attorney Can Help

If you've been bitten by a dog that's bitten before, you may be able to file an injury claim under Virginia's "one bite" rule. But even if the dog hasn't injured anyone before, there are some instances where you could sue the owner for negligence. Get up to speed on your legal options today by contacting a Virginia animal bite injury attorney near you.

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