As a dog owner, you have a legal obligation to prevent your dog from injuring other people. West Virginia follows a strict liability law for dog attacks, so know your rights and obligations as a dog owner to avoid legal penalties. However, West Virginia’s dog bite laws function a bit differently than most other states. Know when and where you are strictly liable for your dog’s actions by speaking with a West Virginia dog bite attorney. In some cases, the state’s strict liability laws may not apply.

West Virginia Strict Liability and the “One Bite” Rule

Unlike some other states that follow a one bite rule for dog attacks, a plaintiff in a West Virginia dog bite lawsuit does not have to prove that the dog’s owner knew of the dog’s potential for violence, only that the dog’s owner caused the plaintiff’s damages and the attack occurred while the victim was lawfully present at the site. This strict liability law only applies to attacks that occur on public property, such as at a park or on the sidewalk. Strict owner liability does not apply to attacks that occur on the owner’s property or if the dog is in another person’s care. In these situations, the state would refer to negligence standards and apply a one bite rule.

Lawful presence is an important determining factor in dog bite lawsuits. A dog owner does not owe a duty of care to trespassers on private property. For example, Eric breaks into Dave’s house with the intention of stealing property, and Dave’s pet Rottweiler bites and scratches Eric, causing severe injuries. Eric would not have legal grounds for a dog bite lawsuit against Dave since he was illegally trespassing. If Dave invites Eric over for a cookout and Dave’s dog attacks Eric unprovoked, then Eric would have grounds for a lawsuit if Dave knew the dog had a history of an unprovoked bite in the past or was negligent in his care of the dog.

Provocation and Negligence

Another determining factor in dog bite lawsuits is provocation, or whether the injured victim provoked the dog in any way, encouraging it to defend itself or its owner. If the dog owner can prove that his or her dog acted out of self-defense or in the defense of its owner, then the victim will likely have no grounds for a lawsuit.

Negligent dog ownership could also lead to a lawsuit. Dogs become more aggressive when they are sick, hungry, or mistreated. If a dog owner neglects his or her dog and the dog develops a mistrust of humans, it will likely attack someone at some point, with or without provocation. An owner will likely incur liability for a dog attack that results from his or her poor care of the dog. A dog owner may also face liability for the negligent handling of a dog, such as failing to properly secure a dog with a collar and leash in public.

Defenses for Dog Owners at Home

Dog owners can prevent dog bites and the subsequent liability for damages with a few best practices. If you recently bought or adopted a dog, give it time to acclimate to its new home and family before introducing it to strangers or taking it too far out into public. This is especially true for larger breeds. Although it is impossible to predict when or why a dog will bite someone or whether a dog of a particular breed is inherently dangerous, some breeds show a statistically higher chance of violence than others. For example, pit bulls accounted for 71% of all dog-related fatalities in 2016 alone.

Obedience training and socializing are also important. The more accustomed your dog becomes with people, the easier it will be to identify the people, places, things, or behaviors that make your dog uncomfortable and may spur a violent response. Many dog attacks in the home happen due to poor supervision and new dogs who are unfamiliar with their new surroundings. Owners who take the time and effort to train and socialize their pets are less likely to face liability for dog bite lawsuits later.