What you need to know about West Virginia dog bites

Dogs are beloved, both in West Virginia and across the nation. You don't get to be called "man's best friend" without displaying love, loyalty and affection toward your owner. Dogs are great companion animals, and are a beloved part of millions of American families. The American Humane Society estimates that there are more than 83 million dogs living in homes across our country.

As much as we love them, though, it is important to remember that dogs can be dangerous. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are more than 4.5 million dog bites around the nation each year, nearly one million of which require medical attention. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog in West Virginia, it can be helpful to have at least a basic understanding of the relevant laws and procedures in place so you know how best to proceed.

Relevant West Virginia law

The state's dog bite statute is codified in West Virginia Code Section 19-20-13. The law states that dog owners are liable for any injury or property damage that their animals do while "running at large." It is difficult in some circumstances to determine the exact meaning of the ambiguous phrase "running at large." Some courts have interpreted it to mean that the animal is outside of the owner's home or yard. Others have interpreted it to mean that the animal is not restrained, regardless of on whose property it is running at the time of the bite.

Interpreting the law

Once it has been determined that a dog, while running at large, did bite someone, there is still the matter of assigning liability. Did the dog escape from a leash? Did the dog burrow under a fence to get out? Was the dog being held at a boarding kennel or groomer while the owner was out of town? The answers to these questions might change the responsible party and change who will be required to pay medical expenses and other costs associated with the dog bite.

There are also situations where the person bit purposely taunted or provoked the dog, or even let it off a leash (or outside of a locked fence) prior to the bite. In that scenario, it might be necessary for a court to determine the true liability of the dog owner and if the victim is eligible to recover damages.

Finding the help you need

In many animal attack incidents, the dog owner's homeowner's insurance policy will cover costs associated with the bite. That doesn't mean that you, as the victim, will get a fair settlement from an insurance company. Many companies will accept liability and offer a "low-ball" settlement in order to clear up the matter with as little time and effort as possible. Before you accept any form of payment from a dog owner or his insurance company, strongly consider seeking the advice of an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney; doing so will ensure that you are not jeopardizing your legal rights and are receiving a fair settlement that adequately compensates you for your injuries.