Man’s best friend or not, dogs bite people. As a result, trusting people are seriously injured by confused or vicious dogs every day. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million dog bites occur annually in the United States, with one in five incidents requiring medical attention. Often, irresponsible dog owners are to blame for the attack. For that reason, owners are held strictly responsible for their dog’s behavior in Washington State.
At Sharpe Law Firm, we’ve spent the past forty years advocating for victims of dog bites and other personal injuries. If a dog has bitten you, we invite you to consult with our experienced legal team, who know, understand, and will help you navigate our state’s dog bite law to receive the compensation you deserve.
The Reality of Dog Bites
While most dogs don’t bite, the ones that do can cause serious injuries, scarring, and permanent disfigurement.
Dog Bite Emergency Room Visits
The above chart shows that the primary victims of aggressive dogs are young children, due to their stature and lack of understanding. Young boys are bitten most frequently, however trusting adults are just as vulnerable to vicious dog attacks. Most dog bite injuries are inflicted on the victims’ hands, legs, and faces. In addition to physical damage, a dog attack can induce lasting emotional trauma.
While both the physical and emotional trauma caused by dog bites is extremely unfortunate, we must remember that when dogs are animals operating on instinct. When a dog bites a human, it is generally reacting
- In self-defense or defense of its territory
- To being frightened or startled
- To protect something valuable, such as a puppy, food, or a toy
- Because it feels sick or in pain
- To over-excitement or over-stimulation
The best way to avoid these natural reactions is for owners to train and socialize their dogs correctly. Neglecting to do so increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Therefore, Washington State dog bite law assists victims in receiving just compensation by placing the burden of responsibility on dog owners.
What Is The Average Dog Bite Injury Claim Worth?
Based on recent data provided by the Insurance Information Institute, Washington State ranked No. 11 in the nation with 425 dog bite claims, paying a total of $16M with an average cost per claim of $37,680.79. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, insurers paid out $881M in dog bite injury claims in 2021, with an average claim value of $49,025.
Types of Damages in Dog Bite Cases
When an individual suffers from a dog attack, they have the right to seek compensation for the damage caused by the attack. Dog bite victims can seek reimbursement for both economic and non-economic damages, including:
|Economic Damages||Non-Economic Damages|
|Past and future medical expenses||Physical pain and suffering|
|Restorative and reconstructive surgeries||Emotional and mental pain and suffering|
|Physical rehabilitation and therapy||Physical disfigurement and impairment|
|Mental health counseling||Lost consortium or other relational damages|
|Past and future lost wages||Lost quality of life|
|Future lost income or employment opportunities|
What to Do About a Dog Bite?
If you or a loved one suffer a dog bite injury, the most crucial first step is to seek medical attention or tend to the injuries immediately. A dog bite can easily become infected, and one can never be sure that the dog has all its necessary vaccines and shots. Depending on the severity of the dog bite and your need to seek medical attention, there are a few steps to take immediately after the incident:
- Collect the personal information of the dog’s owner, including name, address, and phone number.
- Document the injuries sustained at an appropriate time.
- Speak to and collect witness information.
- Take notes of the incident as soon as possible before they fade from memory.
After seeking medical attention and collecting this information, you have at least two forms of recourse.
Call Animal Control in your county or city to file a report of the incident and share all the information collected. The dog will not necessarily be impounded based on your call. However, an officer will complete an investigation to ensure the dog is registered and vaccinated as a matter of public health and safety.
After you’ve contacted animal control, you should consider taking civil action against the dog’s owner or the establishment in charge of the dog at the time of the incident.
You have a right to seek compensation for damages from the owner, individual, or establishment harboring the dog at the time of the incident. To be successful, you will need to prove your losses in a personal injury lawsuit. Some steps that you can take to establish your loss include:
- Seeking medical attention and building a recorded medical history of the incident
- Getting detailed, close-up photos of your dog bite injuries
- Involving animal control and/or the police when appropriate
- Determining who owns the dog together with contact information
- Hiring an expert to evaluate and video the dog
- Interviewing the dog’s veterinarian, dog sitter, dog walker, and neighbors
While it is possible to pursue a civil suit without the assistance of an experienced lawyer, hiring an attorney may be your most effective course of action. Contact us to schedule a free, no obligation consultation and we will discuss with you what can be done.
Understanding Washington Dog Bite Law
Washington State dog bite laws are designed to help victims recover the damages inflicted by a dog owner’s negligence. There is no one free bite in Washington state. If you are bit, you have a claim, subject to a couple of well recognized defenses.
What Is Strict Liability?
Strict liability is a good law for innocent dog bite victims. Washington State follows a strict liability statute that holds owners accountable when their dog injures someone. Strict liability allows a finding of liability (dog owner must pay) without requiring proof of negligence (fault). The strict liability statute eases the burden of proof, making it easier for the person bitten to seek compensation for their injuries, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.
Types of Dog Bite Cases
The law around dog bite cases differs depending on who or what is bitten. There are two main categories of dog bite cases.
Dog Bites Person
RCW 16.08.040 imposes strict liability on the owners of biting dogs in Washington State. It matters not whether the attacking dog had a propensity for viciousness or whether the owner had previous knowledge of the dog’s viciousness. If the dog attacks a person in a public place or on private property (including that of the owner) when lawfully invited, the victim is protected.
Dog Bites Dog
RCW 16.08.010 makes the owner or keeper of any dog in Washington State liable to the owner of any animal killed or injured by such a dog for the amount of damage it sustained and the costs of the collection.
Defenses Recognized by Washington State Law
While strict liability applies to dog owners in most circumstances, there are two situations in which the owner may be exempt from liability.
If the victim sustains a dog bite injury while illegally present on private property, the owner may not be liable. RCW 16.08.050 states the victim must have “the express or implied consent of the owner” to be on the property.
RWC 16.08.060 states an owner is not liable for injuries to a person who provoked a dog attack. Although not explicitly defined, provocation, generally speaking, is any action taken to abuse, torture, or taunt an animal into acting aggressively.
Small children (younger than six) cannot be found to have provoked a dog attack.
Should I Hire a Seattle Dog Bite Lawyer to Help With My Case?
If you’ve suffered a dog bite and are wondering whether you should hire a lawyer to assist with your case, consider the following
- If your injuries are minor, you may do better handling the case on your own.
- If your injuries are significant, you should consult a Seattle dog bite lawyer for their legal opinion of what you should do. Get an initial consultation. A smart law office will provide you with a free consultation.
Deciding to hire a lawyer requires a cost-benefit analysis. If you’ve sustained minor injuries, the financial cost of hiring a lawyer likely will not justify the benefit of a relatively small settlement.
Conversely, if you’ve sustained significant injuries, your personal injury settlement could be worth considerable money. Therefore, the cost of legal fees justifies the benefit of securing a better settlement.
We Represent Dog Bite Victims in Washington State
At Sharpe Law Firm, we recommend scheduling a free consultation if you’ve suffered a dog bite or any personal injury. During that conversation, our experienced legal professionals will gather pertinent information regarding your case and give you their honest opinion about your need for legal representation. The consultation won’t cost you anything, and you will walk away with a better understanding of how you should proceed moving forward.
Contact us today to begin the process. We’ll be happy to answer your questions, share information, and help you better understand dog bite law and procedure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it against the law to own a dog that you know bites people in Washington State?
This depends on where you live. For example, it is illegal in Seattle to possess dangerous dogs within city limits. In other parts of Washington, the owner of the dog must:
- Register the dangerous dog with the state
- Confine the dangerous dog properly
- Post adequate warning signs of a dangerous dog on the property
- Take out a $250,000 bond against injuries the dangerous dog might inflict
- Take out a $250,000 insurance policy against damages the dangerous dog might inflict
There are also numerous Washington State Statutes that regulate owners of dangerous and marauding dogs, including
- RCW 16.08.010 Liability for injuries to livestock by dogs
- RCW 16.08.030 Marauding dogs regulation
- RCW 16.08.070 Dangerous dog regulation
- RCW 16.08.110 Breed-based regulations
Does the dog get one free bite?
No, the dog does not get a free bite. Under the previous Washington dog bite law, there was a trend toward allowing one free dog bite, under the rationale that the owner needed to know their dog had a propensity towards viciousness. Under current Washington State law, this is no longer true. Strict liability is imposed upon the owner of a dog that bites a person when that person is in a public place or lawfully on private property.
What if I don’t want to sue my friend?
Often, a dog bite victim will agonize over what to do when the dog owner is a friend, neighbor, or family member. All persons involved in this are concerned about the dog and their relationship with the owner if a lawsuit is necessary. These are real concerns, and there are ways to work around them. Talk to us.
Will the dog owner have Insurance?
Some dog owners do have insurance, and others don’t.
Even if the owner has homeowners’ insurance some insurance policies will exclude certain dangerous dog breeds. Other polices may exclude all dogs from coverage.
Policies that do cover dogs are typically liability policies and cover damage a dog does to non-household persons, but not to family members or that household’s property.
Get the policy and read it to be sure.
How long do I have to file a dog bite claim?
A dog bite claim follows the same timeline as any other Washington State personal injury claim. Therefore, you must file a lawsuit or settle your claim within three years from the date of the negligence that caused the injury, or two years, if the attack was intentional. If you miss this deadline, you lose your claim. We recommend taking action as quickly as possible to ensure the most robust case possible.