Understanding Dog Bites: Responsibility, Liability, and Prevention

Let’s talk dog bites. I’m a huge dog lover, so I firmly believe there are no bad dogs, just an occasional irresponsible dog owner. I’m talking about dog bites; we’re not talking about just a dog nipping your heels or legs.

I’m talking about those severe bites that cause permanent scarring and disfigurement, and usually, they occur around the faces of children, but not always.

dog bites

Dogs that attack and do damage to someone’s face leave long-lasting injuries and scarring, some of which can never be removed.

Dog Owner Liability: Understanding Responsibility for Dog Bites

Let’s start with a simple question of whether or not a dog owner is automatically responsible when their dog bites someone. The answer is no.

They’re not necessarily automatically responsible. For example, if you have a trespasser on your property and the dog bites them, you’re not responsible for that dog bite. Why? “Because the person is the trespasser, they should not have been on your property.”

Exceptions to Dog Owner Liability: Provocation and Self-Defense

Is the dog owner responsible if the dog bites someone after being provoked or taunted? Not likely.

“Another instance is if someone’s trying to break up two dogs that are fighting each other, and one bites the person who’s trying to break up that fight, that doesn’t make the dog owner responsible.” It may have been the dog that was getting attacked.

So there are some circumstances where dog owners are not responsible for their dog biting somebody else.

Who is Responsible for Covering Care Expenses in the Event of a Dog Bite?

When a dog bites you, and you have serious injuries from that dog bite, the owner of the dog’s homeowner insurance should pay for that. There are some rare occurrences where the insurance company will exclude certain breeds of dogs, but that doesn’t happen very often.

No One-Bite Rule in West Virginia

In many states, dog owners can claim ignorance of their dog’s propensity to bite people until the dog bites someone for the first time. They use this argument to avoid responsibility.

However, in West Virginia, if your dog bites someone, you can be held accountable for the resulting harm, even if it’s the first occurrence. Unlike other states, West Virginia does not have a one-bite rule.

What if Your Dog Bites the Mail Carrier?

So, if your dog bites a mail carrier or any other delivery person, whether it’s someone delivering something you ordered or a meter reader, you will be held responsible in West Virginia for any damage or harm caused by your dog.

In such cases, it is assumed that you have knowledge that these individuals are likely to enter your property. Implicitly or even explicitly in the contract with your utility companies, you have granted them permission to access your property.

As a homeowner, to safeguard yourself, you can proactively notify them about your dog’s behavior so they can avoid entering your property or make alternative arrangements for deliveries.

If you are genuinely concerned about your dog biting a delivery person, whether it’s the mail carrier, UPS, FedEx, or any other carrier delivering packages to your home, putting up a “Beware of the dog” sign is a suggestion. It serves as an explicit warning to the public that they should be cautious because your dogs are prone to biting.

“Having a Beware of the Dog Sign Might Backfire”

Quite frankly, putting up “Beware of the dog” signs might backfire on you. If it’s a trespasser, not only are they trespassing on your property, but when they see your “Beware of dog” sign, they have no legal claim against you if your dog bites them.

But others you know or should know will be coming to your property are now notified that you have a dog.

And so, ultimately, it’s going to come down to whether that sign is sufficient notice to absolve you of any liability.

But, the reality is it’s likely going to come down to where you knew they were coming on your property to make a delivery, to read your meter, whether or not you have a beware of dog sign, you’re likely still going to be liable.

Liability and Leash Control: Dog Bites in Public Settings

What happens if you have your dog off your property, such as when you’re taking it for a walk or to a dog park, and it’s on a leash, and another child or adult approaches, perhaps wanting to pet it, and your dog bites or nips at that person?

In such a situation, you will be held responsible because even though your dog was on a leash, someone else approached your dog, triggering a reaction that led to the bite and harm.

Firstly, you didn’t have your dog sufficiently secured, and secondly, when you took your dog to a public place, you knew or should have known that it was foreseeable for other people to be present.

As a result, other individuals might be in close proximity to you and your dog, making it possible for your dog to bite them if they get too close.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal Accident Injury Lawyers, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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