Dog attacks represent some of the most gruesome personal injuries that are suffered, particularly where a child is involved (as is often the case). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. Almost one in five of those who are bitten (a total of 885,000) require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries. Children are especially at risk for dog attacks. It is important to teach children to be safe around dogs to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring.
Some states have a strict liability dog bite statute that holds the owner of a dog liable for damages inflicted by his or her dog if it bites a person who is either in a public place or lawfully on the dog owner’s property (invitee or guest). W.V. Code §19-20-13. The dog owner is liable regardless of whether the dog had ever been vicious before and regardless of whether the owner had reason to believe it would behave in a vicious manner. The dog does not get “one free bite,” as is the case in some states. The only defenses to the strict liability statute arise where the injured party provoked the dog or where the injured person is a child of the dog’s owner and resides in the family home. In essence, the dog’s owner is an insurer of the dog.
In West Virginia, the old common law approach is also available for injured plaintiffs. Where a domestic animal injures one who is lawfully in the place where the injury occurs, the injured party can pursue two causes of action for damages against the owner or keeper of the animal. The first action is one for strict liability, and it may be maintained where the injured party can show that (1) the animal had a dangerous or vicious propensity, and (2) the owner or keeper had actual or constructive knowledge of that propensity. If the injured party cannot prove either of the above elements, he or she may still maintain an ordinary negligence action if it can be shown that the owner or keeper failed to exercise the ordinary care that was necessary to prevent the injury. In the latter case, however, liability will not attach unless the injured party can demonstrate, with particular emphasis on the animal’s past behavior and characteristics, that the injury could reasonably and foreseeably have been anticipated by the defendant. One can readily ascertain, at least in the case of attacks by domestic animals, that the knowledge and foreseeability analysis under both causes of action will often overlap to some extent. Jividen v. Law, 194 W. Va. 705, 711-712 (W. Va. , 1995)
If a stray bites you, you have little legal recourse because you must file your claim against a dog’s owner or keeper. Your municipality is not responsible for the dog, even if you have called the animal warden several times to pick up the stray.
In all matters involving personal injury it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the Statute of Limitations. If you or a loved one is a victim of personal injuries, call Hamstead, Williams & Shook P.L.L.C. now at 888 – 298 – 2529. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a Contingent Fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don’t delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.