Pandemic Puppies: What you Should Know About Virginia Laws, Owner Liability & Social Inflation
90 million+ dogs are owned as pets in the U.S
When COVID-19 shutdowns started in March in the U.S., Google searches around “adopt a pet” surged about 335% in volume. In a report by 24petwatch.com, pet adoptions and fosters in the South Atlantic (which includes Virginia) surged from March to July by 18% (though they are down in August YOY). Even better, euthanasias dropped by more than 60% in that time frame as well.
This upsurge in dog ownership is likely to cause an increase in the costs of bodily injury from falls, bites, and scratches.
The CDC reports that more than 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the U.S. which equates to 1 in every 66 people sustaining an injury. Associated liability claims totaled $797 million in 2019. These figures are expected to increase in 2020. Over 800,000 of these incidents will require medical attention and leave many victims with mental and physical scarring.
Many homeowners believe their home insurance’s liability coverage will cover any medical and legal costs, but due to social inflation (high verdict settlements), but some insurance companies are excluding certain breeds of dogs or requiring additional premiums for specific breeds and the number of dogs in a household.
Some Other Facts
Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are the most likely to suffer dog bite injuries. Nearly half of the fatal dog bite victims in the 2000s have been children under age 9.
63% of serious and fatal dog attacks involved multiple dogs in 2019; an 18% increase over the prior 14-year average of 45%.
Rescued or rehomed dogs inflicted only 8% (4) of serious or fatal dog-bite related injuries.
Every year, 17+ postal workers in the U.S. are attacked daily by a dog. That’s over 6300 attacks per year.
More than ½ dog-bite injuries are at home with dogs that are known to us. In fact, family dogs accounted for 80% of all fatal dog bite victims between 2005 and 2018.
One more interesting fact – read to the end. You’ll be glad you did.
In 2018, Virginians filed over 375 (nationally 19,000) dog bite liability claims, a 6.6% decrease year-over-year, but the average cost per claim rose 54% to $39,000. The total value of all dog bite claims in Virginia hovered around $14 million. The average cost per claim has risen more than 103 percent from 2003 to 2018, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
Virginia Dog Bite Liability Laws
Virginia sets a two-year time limit on filing personal injury cases which includes dog bite-related injury cases starting with the date the injury occurred.
Virginia also has a “one bite” rule. A dog’s owner is liable for injuries if the owner knew the dog was aggressive or dangerous. The “one bite” terminology implies that a dog is dangerous because it has bitten someone else before. Some other states do not require any evidence of past behavior and simply hold the owner liable for any injuries the dog causes.
Virginia’s “Negligence Per Se” Rule requires dog owners to use “reasonable care” in controlling and restraining their dogs. It allows injured parties to bring a negligence claim against the owner if they can demonstrate the owner failed to use this reasonable care in handling his dog. This evidence can be as simple as showing an owner did not obey a leash law.
Dog owners are not left without options in these cases. “Contributory negligence” can be argued if the injured person is partly or totally at fault for his injuries. For example, ignoring a “Beware of Dog” sign, or approaching a dog in an aggressive and threatening manner (where cell phones come in handy). If an injured person is found even partly at fault, the damages award drops to zero automatically and is barred from collecting damages from any other at-fault parties.
Military and police dog handlers are generally exempt from dog bite liability claims or lawsuits if they are on active duty.
Dog Bite Liability Coverage in Your Homeowners Policy
Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite claims up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.
Mutual Assurance considers the number, size, history, and breed of dogs. An extra premium is applied for more than 3 dogs but less than 5.
What To Do If Attacked
Treat a dog attack as you would a car accident. If your injuries allow it, gather evidence, take photos, and record any relevant information. If you are unable to do this, ask a witness to do so. This includes:
Owner contact information
Photos of injuries and surroundings
Note date, time of day, location
Any witness contact information
Keep the clothing you wore – do not wash or repair
Note what happened before, during and after the incident
Contact your local animal control to report the attack
Virginia Animal Control Numbers
The most aggressive dogs in the U.S., i.e. the one responsible for the most dog bites? The Chihuahua.
Sources: CDC, Marks & Harrison Law Firm, Alllaw.com, iii.org