An appellate court in Virginia recently issued a written opinion in a Virginia dog bite case, ordering the defendant to pay restitution of nearly $4,000 for an injury their dog inflicted on the plaintiff’s dog.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and the defendant were next-door neighbors. In July of 2016, their dogs were outside and ended up in a “staring contest” on the defendant’s property. Evidently, when the plaintiff called for her dog to come back, the defendant’s dog jumped on the plaintiff’s dog, which prompted the plaintiff’s other dog to intervene. The defendant’s dog then attacked the plaintiff’s second dog, and the fight continued, eventually ending on the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff’s injured dog subsequently had to have surgery and spend a week in the hospital, totaling veterinary bills of $3,896.15. The circuit court, after a bench trial, found that the defendant was responsible for the attacking dog and liable to pay the vet fees.
The defendant appealed on two grounds. First, she argued that her dog should not be deemed “dangerous.” Under Virginia law, a dog that attacks or injures someone else’s dog is labeled a “dangerous dog.” There is one exception, however; if the attack occurs on the property of the attacking dog’s owner (or “custodian”) then the attacking dog is not labeled as dangerous. The defendant argued that because the attack began on her property, the exception should apply. The appellate court rejected this argument and her definition of “occur.” According to the court’s opinion, “occur” is unambiguous, referring to every location where an event takes place. Because there was evidence in the record to support the lower court’s finding that the attack ended on the plaintiff’s property, not the defendant’s, the court affirmed the finding below, holding that the defendant’s dog was dangerous.