Off the Leash? When Dog Owners Can Be Held Liable

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 350,000 dog bite victims are seen in emergency rooms on average every year, and approximately 850,000 victims receive medical attention. Data that the CDC collected in the USA between 2011 and 2013 indicated there were 4.5 million dog bite victims per year, but that figure appears to be rising. Even more disturbing is the significant number of dog bite fatalities occurring in the U.S., including in West Virginia, where in 2014 there were approximately 42 dog bite-related fatalities.

Based on data compiled from over 700 U.S. cities, pit bulls contributed to 64% of these deaths. Pit bulls make up about only 6% of the total U.S. dog population, and pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 74% of the total recorded deaths in 2014. This same combination also accounted for 74% of all fatal attacks during the 10-year period of 2005 to 2014. This data clearly highlights that in terms of those breeds that are responsible for dog bites, including fatal dog bites, there are only a few breeds responsible. Furthermore, the data demonstrates that the risk of dog bites in the U.S. remains substantial. Recently there was a well publicized story of a two-year old who was tragically killed in West Virginia, when the parents failed watch the child and he wondered into a yard where he was attacked and killed by a dog.

West Virginia has a very strict dog bite law, which essentially provides that “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” §19-20-13. In other words, when a dog owner allow his or her dog to run free without a leash or outside of fenced yard, the dog owner is 100% responsible for any harm, including fatalities, that may occur. In legal terms, this concept is known as “strict liability.”

Owners of dogs that cause harm while “at large” have no legal defense, but are determined to be liable based upon the mere fact that their dog was “at large” and caused harm to another. As such, dog owners in West Virginia should be cognizant of the civil legal liability for allowing their dog to run “at large” and the consequences faced if and when such dog causes bodily harm to another.

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has suffered a dog bite, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters and can evaluate your potential legal claims on your behalf.


by Colombo Law
Last updated on - Originally published on