Like many states, West Virginia's dog bite law is a mix of statutory and common law. West Virginia,W.Va.Code § 19-20-13 states, quite simply, that a dog owner or keeper is liable for any damages for injuries to person or property by his or her dog while at-large, i.e., without restraint or supervision. If none of the circumstances as required by the statute, or no local ordinances, apply to the incident in which a bite caused some personal injury or property damage, West Virginia dog bite victims must usually bring any claims under a negligence theory or the "one-bite" rule.
19-20-13 imposes strict liability on dog owners in that the simple commission of the act under the required circumstances establishes liability. There is no further requirement beyond the act's commission that the victim prove that the owner was at fault, i.e., negligent or reckless. The statute's use of the phrase "who permits such dog to run at large," suggests that a canine owner or keeper may have a defense to a claim brought under the statute to dog bites on his or her property. Here is West Virginia's dog bite law as codified in § 19-20-13.
Dog running at large; liability of owner. Any owner or keeper of any dog who permits such dog to run at large shall be liable for any damages inflicted upon the person or property of another by such dog while so running at large.
West Virginia common law may offer a legal solution if § 19-20-13 doesn't apply. For example, if the victim was injured while the dog was restrained and not "at-large," the victim may establish tort grounds for dog bite liability. For example, West Virginians may utilize a negligence theory to establish a dog owner's liability based upon duty, breach, causation, and damages. Also, under the "one-bite" rule, an owner or person having custody of a canine may be found liable if, prior to the current bite, he or she had knowledge of the dog's propensity to bite, or knowledge of other behavior indicating it may be dangerous. If a dog has bitten even one person, it is considered to have a propensity to bite under the "one-bite" rule.
Many legal scholars believe that the "one-bite" rule is an antiquated law, which is why it is followed in few states in 2016. Modern dog bite legislation, and the majority view, makes a dog owner liable for the first bite and each and every bite. This majority view raises the standard of dog owners to protect and ensure the safety of the general public. Not a bad idea for West Virginiia to consider.
If you have been injured in and around Huntington, or anywhere in West Virginia, as a result of a dog bite, please call Amy Crossan, an expert in personal injury law, for a consultation at 304.523.8451.