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When can West Virginians hold a dog owner responsible for a bite?

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2023 | Serious Personal Injury

While many dog bites are relatively minor, others can cause serious injuries. This is often particularly true when the dog at issue is large and/or strong. Bites to the hand are extremely common because they often occur when someone reaches out to pet a dog. Similarly, facial disfigurement is common because people often bend down to pet dogs. Nerve and tendon damage – including damage to facial nerves – are among the more serious complications of a dog bite. These challenges can occur even if there’s not significant bleeding. Potentially “invisible harm” is just one reason to see a doctor as soon as possible after a bite.

If you or your child has suffered injuries that require medical treatment and potentially even surgery, it’s important to know about your rights to hold the dog’s owner responsible. This effort can help you cover the costs of treatment as well as non-economic damages like pain and suffering. A bite that causes nerve damage can be disabling for a time and even prevent someone from working.

Dogs “running at large”

West Virginia is what’s known as a “strict liability” state. That means that owners can be held responsible, even if their dog has never shown signs of aggression or bitten anyone in the past. If a dog who has been reported for biting someone in the past “re-offends,” they may be euthanized.

However, the state’s statute refers only to “dogs running at large.” Specifically, it says, “Any owner or keeper of any dog who permits such dog to run at large shall be liable for any damages inflicted upon the person or property of another by such dog while so running at large.” If a dog was not running at large at the time of a bite, the victim may need to pursue compensation via a negligence-based personal injury approach.

What if the bite victim provoked the dog?

If a person is bitten by a dog who’s in their own home or on a leash, there’s more likely to be a question of whether they did something to provoke the dog. An owner generally won’t be held liable if their dog bites someone who has struck or yelled at the dog, thrown something at them or caused them to believe they needed to protect their owner. Further, if someone is bitten when they disturbed a sleeping or eating dog, one who’s showing signs of fear or aggression or who’s with their pups, they may not be able to hold the owner liable.

Each case is unique. That’s why if you or a loved one has been bitten or otherwise injured by someone else’s dog and you’re having a difficult time getting the owner or their insurance company to take responsibility, it’s a good idea to seek legal guidance.