New Virginia Law Changes Police Protocol for Handling Dog Bites
A new law relaxing how Virginia police and Animal Control officers manage dog bite cases went into effect on July 1, 2017. In Virginia, dog owners are not held liable for dog bite injuries unless they were aware of a dog’s propensity to bite because the dog had vicious propensities. In fact, the new law seems to grant even greater protection to the dog, by removing the requirement that police issue a summons to the dog owner whenever a dog bites.
In Due Course, a publication of the Commonwealth’s legislature that summarizes select laws signed by the governor, outlines the main points of the law that unanimously passed the Virginia House of Delegates in February. Instead of automatically issuing a summons when a dog bites another domestic animal or a person, the law instructs the officer to conduct an investigation to find if certain exemptions apply. According to the text of the law, a dog that has bitten another dog or a cat is not dangerous if:
- A licensed veterinarian finds the injuries inflicted were not serious.
- The same person owns both animals.
- The attack happened on the property of the attacking dog’s owner.
A dog that bites a person is not dangerous if:
- The injury consists of a single nip resulting in a scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury.
The law further states that “No dog that has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person shall be found to be a dangerous dog if the court determines, based on the totality of the evidence before it, or for other good cause, that the dog is not dangerous or a threat to the community.”
For dogs that are determined to be dangerous, the new law changes the time period, from 45 days to 30 days, within which the owner must obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate.
The law favors dog owners in cases arising from puppy nips. It makes little sense to label a puppy vicious, because puppies are naturally mouthy and become less so with proper training. However, if a mature dog bites a person, even if the bite doesn’t cause serious injury, shouldn’t the case get greater scrutiny? By giving discretion to an officer not to issue a summons, the law might, as a practical matter, be giving the dog another free bite. Victims of dog bites in Virginia already face an uphill climb in pursuit of compensation. This new law may go a bit too far in protecting man’s best friend.
Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban manages a wide variety of personal injury cases, including dog bite cases. If you are injured in Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina, you can trust us to fight for your rights. Call (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.