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.
The defendant also argued that she should not be liable for restitution because she was not the owner of the dog. Virginia Law states that once an animal is deemed dangerous, the “owner, custodian, or harborer” of that dog is liable to pay restitution for any damage caused by that dog attacking someone else’s dog. It was undisputed by the parties that the dog belonged to the defendant’s son, but the defendant and her husband were watching him temporarily. However, this fact did not excuse the defendant of liability. The court reasoned that since the defendant owned the house where the dog was staying, sent emails to neighbors regarding the dog, and referred to him as “my dog” after the attack and during testimony, she was considered to be the custodian or harborer of the dog, even if technically not the owner. Thus, the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s damages.
As a result of the court’s opinion, the defendant was ordered to pay restitution of $3,896.15 to the plaintiff, to cover the veterinary fees she faced as a result of her dog’s injuries.
Have You or Your Companion Animal Been Injured By Someone’s Dog?
If you or your companion animal have recently been bitten, attacked, or injured by someone else’s dog in Virginia, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Virginia dog bite case. Contact one of the dedicated attorneys at Robinson Law, PLLC to discuss your claim. Our attorneys are experienced in Virginia personal injury law and can help you receive the compensation you deserve. Call (703) 542-4008 today to learn more.