Last month, an appellate court in West Virginia issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving spouse of a man who was killed in a vicious dog attack. The case was filed against the local county where the couple lived and required the court to determine if the county could be held liable, even though the dogs were privately owned by another citizen of the county. Ultimately, the court concluded that the city may be held liable because a special relationship existed between the county and the plaintiff.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff and her husband lived in Monroe County. On several occasions, the plaintiff had expressed concern to the county’s dog warden that several neighboring dogs presented a danger to the community. The dog warden told the plaintiff that the “county would take care of it.”
On a separate occasion, the dog warden visited the home of the dogs’ owner. However, when she pulled up, at least one of the dogs approached the car, jumped on the hood, and acted in an aggressive manner, preventing the dog warden from getting out of the car. She later returned to the home and issued a citation to the dogs’ owner for failing to keep the dog properly restrained.
Later, the plaintiff’s husband was viciously attacked by several of the dogs at the same residence. He died from his injuries, and the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, arguing that the county was negligent in failing to take corrective action for the known danger. The trial court dismissed the case based on the public duty doctrine, and the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court explained that, under West Virginia law, a government may not be held liable for injuries caused by a breach of a duty that is owed to the public at large. This is called the public duty doctrine. However, when a special relationship exists between a citizen and the government, a duty may arise. Under these facts, the court held that there was a special relationship, given the plaintiff’s attempts to notify the county of the dangers and the dog warden’s own knowledge of the dogs’ dangerousness.
The Public Duty Doctrine in Virginia
Unlike in West Virginia, the public duty doctrine is very broad in Virginia. Essentially, the exception only applies when the government “owed a duty to control the behavior of a third-party, and the third-party committed acts of assaultive criminal behavior upon another.” However, in these cases, when a special relationship exists between the government official and the plaintiff, liability may be appropriate.
Of course, plaintiffs bringing a personal injury case against a government entity in Virginia may still need to overcome issues of government immunity, depending on the specifics of the accident and the allegations.
Have You Been Injured by the Negligence of a Government Official?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of accident, and you believe that a government official or entity is responsible for your injuries, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Virginia law firm of The Schupak Law Firm have extensive experience handling all types of personal injury cases, including those brought against government defendants. Call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today.
See More Blog Posts:
Court Determines a Plaintiff’s Alleged Negligence Is Not Relevant in Crashworthiness Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, June 2, 2017.
Tire Manufacturer Withholds Evidence, Although Court-Imposed Fine Reversed, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 10, 2017.