A recent attack demonstrates how Virginia courts may impose civil and criminal penalties against a dog owner whose pet attacks and injures a human being.

In December 2015, a 6-year-old girl was visiting family friends in Virginia when two dogs attacked her. According to WAVY, she was airlifted to a hospital and later transported to another facility for surgery.

The owner of the animals is facing criminal charges, which could result in serious penalties. The case illustrates how pet owners could be held liable following an attack.

The attack

The little girl was attacked the day before her seventh birthday. She had been playing with the dogs outside at a family friend's home. The dogs, both Belgian Malinois, attacked, and the little girl suffered a bite to her neck. Chesapeake Animal Services took the dogs into custody. WAVY reports that the 25-year-old owner of the animal was charged with two counts of vicious dog.

Virginia's criminal penalties

Virginia criminal code outlines charges that may be applied if someone is found to have a vicious dog. A vicious dog is one that has done one of the following:

  • Caused someone serious injury
  • Attacked and killed a human
  • Continued to display behavior that resulted in a previous court action

Following an investigation and a hearing, a court will rule on whether or not a dog is vicious. If it is found to be so, the animal may be euthanized and the owner may have to pay restitution as well as cover other damages that the victim suffers. The owner may face a class 1 misdemeanor if the dog caused injury while attacking a human. If the court determines that the dog owner acted negligently, he or she may be found guilty of a class 6 felony. Both charges are punishable by fines and prison time.

Dog bite lawsuits

Unlike many other states, Virginia does not impose a strict liability on dog owners when their pets attack and injure someone. Instead, the injured must be able to prove that the owner was somehow negligent. For example, if the animal was not properly restrained or the owner knew the dog had been deemed dangerous already, a victim may be able to recover damages.

A dog bite lawsuit in Virginia may be nullified under certain circumstances. if the injured party somehow provoked the animal or was trespassing on the property, a court may not rule in the victim's favor. Additionally, if the injured person had been warned to avoid the animal but did not, a lawsuit may not be successful.

In the case of the little girl, the owner may have to pay damages if she is found guilty of the charges of having a vicious dog. Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with an attorney.