Dog attacks represent some of the most gruesome personal injuries that are suffered, particularly where a child is involved (as is often the case). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. Almost one in five of those who are bitten (a total of 885,000) require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries. Children are especially at risk for dog attacks. It is important to teach children to be safe around dogs to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring.
Virginia law defines a dangerous dog as one who has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal other than a dog, or killed a companion animal. Va. Code § 3.1-796.93:1. A vicious dog is defined as a dog which has killed a person, inflicted serious injury on a person, or continues to exhibit the behavior which resulted in a previous court finding the animal to be a dangerous dog. Va. Code § 3.1-796.93:1. No dog will be considered by a court to be a dangerous or vicious dog if the threat, injury, or damage inflicted by the dog was sustained by a person 1) committing a crime at the time upon the premises of the owner of the dog, 2) committing at the time a trespass or other tort upon the premises of the owner of the dog, or 3) provoking, tormenting, or physically abusing the dog. Va. Code § 3.1-796.93:1. The owner of a dangerous dog must obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate, and display on the dog a special tag that identifies it as a dangerous dog. When the dog involved does not belong to a class generically dangerous, it must be shown (a) that the animal has vicious tendencies which (b) are known or should be known to the owner before there can be liability on the part of the latter for injuries occasioned by the animal to third persons. Burton v. Walmsley, 9 Va. Cir. 309 (1967).
If a stray bites you, you have little legal recourse because you must file your claim against a dog's owner or keeper. Your municipality is generally not responsible for the dog, even if you have called the animal warden several times to pick up the stray.