What is the statute of limitation for a dog bite suit?

How long do you have to file a dog bite suit? The statute of limitations in Virginia is two years from the date of the bite incident.  If a child under the age of eighteen has been bitten, the statute of limitations is the child’s twentieth birthday. This means that either a case has to be settled or a lawsuit properly filed in the court system prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations period, or else the claim will be forever barred.  Therefore, if you think you or someone you know may have a case, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your rights.   

If you or a loved one have been bitten by a dog, you may be wondering what are the next steps. To determine what is best for you and your family consider the following:  

  • Context and history of the animal  
  • The severity of the injury and your medical bills.  
  • Why you should file sooner than later

What is the “one bite rule”?

The one bite rule is how a jury determines the liability of a dog based on its history with humans. The one bite rule is a part of Virginia’s common law, meaning it is a set of principles for courts to fall back on when a situation is not accounted for in written law.   

Under this rule, an owner may only be found liable if previous behaviors indicate that their dog is a danger to others. In other words, given the dog’s demeanor, a jury would decide if the owner should have known it was dangerous.  

Despite the name, however, this rule references more than just bites. Dog owners do not have, what some may call, a “one free bite” under this rule. Threatening behaviors that may indicate a dangerous animal may include lunging, snapping towards a human, snarling, growling, and baring teeth. A significant history of these behaviors may leave an owner responsible if/when a bite occurs.  

An exception to the one bite rule may exist if the dog was not on a leash when an attack occurred and the attack occurred off of the dog owner’s property.  A leash law violation may give rise to a negligence per se claim, whereby it may not be necessary to prove the dog owner had prior knowledge of a dog’s dangerous propensities.      

Dog Bite 

What should I do if I am bitten?  

Dog bites are an incredibly common injury. More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, and more than 800,000 receive medical attention for dog bites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  

Unfortunately, children are the most common victims of dog bites and are more likely to sustain severe injury.  

A dog bite may result in a range of injury including puncture wounds and deep tissue lacerations. These wounds may lead to permanent scarring that could subject the victim to bullying or prejudice. In some instances, a large animal may jump or throw its weight into someone causing bruising and other fall related injuries.  

Take the following steps to reduce serious harm:  

  1. Clean the wound.  
  2. Control bleeding with a clean cloth or gauze  
  3. Seek medical attention. 

Depending on the severity of the bite, treatment may include prescription antibiotics, stitches, reconstructive treatments, and possible immunization from tetanus and/or rabies.   

Medical bills for dog bite treatments may be staggering. According to the National Library of Medicine, the average hospital bill for a dog bite cost over $18,000, this is 30% higher than other injury related expenses. This number only gets higher for children, elderly people, and immunocompromised individuals.  

In some cases, victims may seek therapy for the mental health related injuries following a dog bite such as anxiety, flashbacks, and depression. A victim may incur more costs while seeking mental health care, sometimes as much as $200 a session. These bills become even more debilitating when you factor in missed work.  

There is hope, however, as you may not have to shoulder this cost alone. While the ideal option might be that the victim’s insurance covers it all, there are some complications with this solution. When factoring in deductibles, copays, and coinsurance a victim’s insurance plan might still leave them with thousands of dollars in bills. These numbers only get higher if the immediate medical facilities are out of your network.  

If you are one of the thousands of Virginians without insurance, however, you may have to fight to have your bills covered. Do not lose hope and do not go down this path alone. Make sure you find an experienced attorney to advocate for you with the dog owner’s liability insurance and civil court. An experienced attorney might even be able to get your immediate bills down when they work on your case.  

When should I consult an attorney? How much will it cost?  

The only official way to know if you have a case or not is to consult an experienced attorney. The attorneys who handle dog bite cases are generally called personal injury lawyers. These attorneys will generally (but not always) work on contingency fees. 

A contingency fee means your lawyer receives a percentage of your final settlement instead of a flat rate or hourly payment. The exact percentage varies based on several considerations. For example, the contingency fee amount can change based on location, the attorney’s office, and whether your case ends up in court. 

As for when you should consult an attorney, sooner is always better 

 If your state upholds a statute of limitations for dog bite cases, there is certainly no time to waste. Even if there is not an explicit time limit, you may still want to act as soon as possible!  Proper investigation of these claims may take some time.