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Posted in Injuries on July 27, 2022
You might be aware that you can hold a pet owner responsible if a dog bites you in West Virginia, but what about if another dog attacks your dog? Unlike West Virginia’s dog bite statute, the state does not have a law specifically addressing dog-on-dog attacks. You will need to navigate West Virginia’s property damage laws, negligence standards and other dog-related statutes to understand your options in this scenario.
First, you must realize that West Virginia does not classify pets as people for legal purposes. They are viewed as property. This changes the options that are available when someone else’s dog attacks yours. While the dog bite statute (WV Code Section 19-20-13) permits an injured victim to file a claim against a pet owner or keeper who permitted the dog to run at large in connection to a dog bite injury, this rule does not apply when it was a dog or pet that was injured.
Dogs are instead subject to West Virginia’s property damage laws. A dog who is injured in a dog attack may give the owner grounds to file a property damage lawsuit rather than a dog bite injury claim. A claim brought for property damage as it pertains to an injured pet could repay the owner for related losses, such as veterinary bills to treat the dog’s injuries. In West Virginia, an owner of damaged property has two years to file a civil claim against the at-fault party for financial damages under WV Code 55-2-12.
West Virginia’s dog bite law is a strict liability statute, meaning a person who is injured in a dog attack does not have to prove that the owner of the pet was negligent at the time of the incident to qualify for financial compensation. For example, it is not necessary to establish that the pet owner knew that the dog had vicious propensities or failed to prevent a reasonably foreseeable dog attack. The pet owner will be strictly (automatically) liable for damages caused by his or her dog, regardless of negligence.
A claim filed for an attack involving two dogs, however, comes with a requirement to prove negligence. Rather than assigning strict liability, West Virginia law requires a plaintiff to prove that a defendant was negligent or reckless and that this caused the property damage in question. In a case where your dog was attacked by someone else’s dog, you have the burden to prove that the other pet owner was negligent.
Negligence in a dog attack case can take many forms. Allowing the animal to run at large – failing to obey the city’s leash laws – is one example of pet owner negligence. Another is failing to properly control a dangerous dog, which is a dog that has bitten someone or killed a domestic animal in the past. If the pet owner knew or reasonably should have known that his or her pet was aggressive but failed to control the dog, this also constitutes negligence.
If you file a lawsuit against a pet owner for a dog that attacked your dog, you have the burden of proving the pet owner’s negligence as more likely to be true than not true. This requires clear and convincing evidence. Evidence to support this type of case may include signed eyewitness accounts, statements from neighbors who have noticed aggressive behaviors from the dog before, video surveillance footage, and any previous complaints or dog bite reports involving the dog.
You may also have to contend with defenses presented by the other dog owner against liability, such as that your dog provoked the attack or that you were trespassing. A West Virginia personal injury lawyer can help you combat these defenses, collect evidence, hire experts and take other steps to strengthen your case. For more information about this type of lawsuit in West Virginia, contact Manchin Injury Law to request a free consultation.