Dog Bite Lawyer Seattle: What to Do After an Animal Attack

INTRODUCTION:

Dog bites can lead to serious injuries. Dog bite law in Washington is complicated, and each case is very fact specific. This means that consulting with an attorney as soon as possible is likely a prudent thing to do.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON DOG BITES:

In April, 2018, the Insurance Information Institute published their review of insurance claims related to dog bites in 2017. The III found that dob-related injuries accounted for more than one third of homeowners’ claims made in 2017. The cost of these claims was almost $700,000,000.00.

III found that dog bite claims had increased between 2016 and 2017 by 2.2 percent. The average cost of the claims also increased by 11.5 percent.

The III also found that the average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 90 percent over the last 14 years due to increased medical costs as well as increases in the size of settlements and awards.

The III presented a table demonstrating the increases in costs of claims:

Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims (And Other Dog-Related Injuries*), 2003-2017

 

Year Value of Claims
($ millions)
Number of Claims Average Cost
Per Claim
2003 $324.2 16,919 $19,162
2004 318.9 15,630 20,406
2005 321.1 14,295 22,464
2006 322.4 14,661 21,987
2007 356.2 14,531 24,511
2008 387.0 15,823 24,461
2009 412.0 16,586 24,840
2010 412.6 15,770 26,166
2011 490.8 16,695 29,396
2012 489.7 16,459 29,752
2013 483.7 17,359 27,862
2014 530.8 16,550 32,072
2015 571.3 15,352 37,214
2016 602.2 18,123 33,230
2017 686.3 18,522 37,051
% change, 2016-2017 14.0% 2.2% 11.5%
% change, 2003-2017 111.7% 9.5% 93.4%

 

Source: Insurance Information Institute, State Farm®.

Last, the III found that the State of Washington ranked 20th amongst the States in number of claims and was slightly above average in terms of the value of claims made.

All of the above information can be found at the III website here:

https://www.iii.org/press-release/dog-bite-claims-nationwide-increased-22-percent-california-florida-and-pennsylvania-lead-nation-in-number-of-claims-040518

The Centers for Disease Control also keeps statistics and provides information on dog bite prevention and treatment for common injuries resulting from dog bites.

The main group most at risk for a dog bite are children. Moreover, dog bites in children are often more injury-causing than in adults. More than half of dog bites occur at home with dogs that are familiar.

The best preventative measures for avoiding dog bites are listed by the CDC as follows:

Do:

  • Always ask if it is okay to pet someone else’s dog before reaching out to pet the dog.
  • When approached by an unfamiliar dog, remain motionless (“be still like a tree”).
  • If a dog knocks you over, curl into a ball with your head tucked and your hands over your ears and neck.
  • Immediately let an adult know about any stray dogs or dogs that are behaving strangely.

Don’t:

  • Don’t approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Don’t run from a dog.
  • Don’t panic or make loud noises.
  • Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Don’t pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
  • Don’t encourage your dog to play aggressively.
  • Don’t let small children play with a dog unsupervised.

What to do if an unfamiliar dog approaches you and you do not want to interact with it:

  • Stop! Stay still and be calm.
  • Do not panic or make loud noises.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the dog.
  • Say “No” or “Go Home” in a firm, deep voice.
  • Stand with the side of your body facing the dog. Facing a dog directly can appear aggressive to the dog. Instead, keep your body turned partially or completely to the side.
  • Slowly raise your hands to your neck, with your elbows in.
  • Wait for the dog to pass or slowly back away.

What to do if you are bitten or attacked by a dog:

Protect Yourself

  • Put your purse, bag, or jacket between you and the dog.
  • If you are knocked down, curl into a ball with your head tucked in and your hands over your ears and neck.

Wash Wounds with Soap and Water

When you get to a safe place, immediately wash wounds with soap and water. Seek medical attention, especially:

  • For minor wounds:
    • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
    • Apply an antibiotic cream.
    • Cover the wound with a clean bandage.
    • See a healthcare provider if the wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen; if you develop a fever; or if the dog that bit you was acting strangely.
  • For deep wounds:
    • Apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding.
    • If you cannot stop the bleeding or you feel faint or weak, call 911 or your local emergency medical services immediately.
    • See a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
  • See a healthcare provider:
    • If the wound is serious (uncontrolled bleeding, loss of function, extreme pain, muscle or bone exposure, etc.).
    • If the wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen, or if you develop a fever.If you don’t know if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies.
    • If it has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot and the bite is deep.

Report the Bite

  • Because anyone who is bitten by a dog is at risk of getting rabies, consider contacting your local animal control agency or police department to report the incident, especially:
    • If you don’t know if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies.
    • If the dog appears sick or is acting strangely.
  • If possible, contact the owner and ensure the animal has a current rabies vaccination. You will need the rabies vaccine license number, name of the veterinarian who administered the vaccine, and the owner’s name, address, and phone number.

Diseases You Can Get from Dog Bites

In addition to causing injury, dog bites can spread germs from dogs to people. Up to 18% of dog bites become infected with bacteria. Over 60 different kinds of bacteria have been found in dog mouths, but only a handful of these germs can make you sick. Dog bites can cause the following diseases:

  • Rabies is one of the most serious diseases people can get from dog bites. Although getting rabies from a dog in the United States is rare, it is still a risk. Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies virus is most commonly spread through the bite and saliva of an infected animal. The disease can be prevented by vaccinating dogs. People who are bitten by a dog should speak with a healthcare provider to see if rabies vaccination is necessary.
  • Capnocytophaga bacteria live in the mouths of people, dogs, and cats. These bacteria do not make dogs or cats sick. Rarely, Capnocytophaga can spread to people through bites, scratches, or close contact from a dog or cat and cause illness. Most people who have contact with dogs or cats do not become sick, but people with a weakened immune system are at greater risk of becoming sick because it is harder for their bodies to fight infections.
  • Pasteurella is a type of bacteria seen in over half of infected dog bite wounds. Pasteurella commonly causes a painful, red infection at the site of the bite, but can cause a more serious disease in people with weakened immune systems. There may also be swollen glands, swelling in the joints, and difficulty moving.
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a type of staph infection that is resistant to a certain group of antibiotics. Dogs and other animals can carry MRSA without showing any symptoms, but the bacteria can cause skin, lung, and urinary tract infections in people. In some people, MRSA can spread to the bloodstream or lungs and cause life-threatening infections.
  • Tetanus is a toxin produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This toxin causes rigid paralysis in people and could be a problem in deep bite wounds.

The CDC website containing the above informaiotn can be found here:
https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html

WASHINGTON DOG BITE LAW:
OVERVIEW:

Washington state has a statue that makes a dog owner or person who has charge of the dog liable should the dog bite someone. This statute does not require that the owner have notice that the dog might bite i.e. that the dog has bitten before or has tendencies toward biting, but instead imposes liability strictly in this situation as long as it cannot be said that the victim did something to provoke the bite.

While the dog bite statute is helpful to victims of dog bites, it is not the only way that someone who has been bitten has to prove their case. Additionally, if the dog caused injury through means other than a bite, such as knocking someone down, then common law theories of negligence apply. This means that the dog’s known tendencies and prior actions can be taken into account to determine whether or not the owner or keeper of the dog acted reasonably in protecting other persons from harm caused by that dog.

People who are liable for negligence in a dog case can include anyone who unreasonably failed to control the dog on that day, and thereby caused injury to another person.

Prior to the dog bite statute being enacted, Washington followed the majority of the states in that a dog bite in and of itself was not sufficient to demonstrate negligence on behalf of the owner or keeper. As far as the common law is concerned, in order to recover “it must be shown that the defendant knew, or had reason to know, of a dangerous propensity in the one animal in question.” W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 76, at 500 (4th ed. 1971). Accord, Johnston v. Ohls, supra at 404.

This came to be known as the “free bite” or “one bite” rule. Once a dog had bitten someone, then the owner could no longer claim ignorance of the dog’s tendencies. So the first person to be bitten had no legal remedy absent some other way to prove the owner knew of and could have prevented the bite. Once on notice, however, the next bite would be legally actionable.

By passing a law focusing on the biting itself, Washington eliminated the need to show prior notice in that instance. If the dog created harm by acting other than biting, however, then it still must be shown that the owner or keeper both had knowledge of the dogs tendencies and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the harm to another.

This is referred to as the “one-bite rule.” Its importance in Washington is that it extends liability to persons other than the dog owner himself. Common law liability is not necessary to prove against a dog owner, because Washington has a dog bite statute.

The Revised Code of Washington, section 16.08., in part, reads as follows:

16.08.040
Dog bites—Liability.

(1) The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.
(2) This section does not apply to the lawful application of a police dog, as defined in RCW 4.24.410.
[ 2012 c 94 § 1; 1941 c 77 § 1; Rem. Supp. 1941 § 3109-1.]


16.08.050
Entrance on private property, when lawful.

A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of RCW 16.08.040 when such person is upon the property of the owner with the express or implied consent of the owner: PROVIDED, That said consent shall not be presumed when the property of the owner is fenced or reasonably posted.
[ 1979 c 148 § 1; 1941 c 77 § 2; Rem. Supp. 1941 § 3109-2.]


16.08.060
Provocation as a defense.

Proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person shall be a complete defense to an action for damages.
[ 1941 c 77 § 3; Rem. Supp. 1941 § 3109-3.]

Reviewing this statute tells us that people beyond the dog’s registered owner can be liable for the bite. Further, trespassers do not have a right to sue for being bitten. Last, the dog owner or keeper can attempt to use “provocation” as a defense to a cause of action brought against them. In practice, the provocation defense is sought to be used widely because it is the only defense listed in the statute and the definition of what is considered a provocation is left open.

Other statutes or ordinances can also come into play. Many local laws require dogs to be on leashes when in public. Failure of the owner to meet the requirements of a local rule or law can be evidence of their overall negligence regarding the animal.

An interesting issue in Washington is whether a landlord can have liability for a dog bite that occurs on its premises. For many years, the answer to this question was, “no.” A recent Court of Appeals case, however, has opened the door for the landlord to be liable for a dog bite or attack under certain circumstances.

In Oliver v. Cook et al (2016), the Court of Appeals determined that if the victim of the dog bite was a licensee or invitee to the property, then the landowner might be liable for injury to that person if the landowner knew or should have known about a dangerous condition and would not expect that the invitee to the land would know about or would fail to protect themselves from it and did not take reasonable care to protect the invitee against that danger, then the landlord might be liable. So, for instance, if a landlord knows that a tenant has an aggressive or dangerous dog and invites a person to come to do work on the premises and that person gets bitten, then the landlord might have liability in addition to that liability against the dog owner.

DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY FOR MY DOG BITE CASE?

Wiener & Lambka, PS has extensive experience handling dog bite matters. These cases present a number of unique challenges. First and foremost, it is important to understand exactly who owned the dog, and who else might be liable for the dog’s actions. Second, we must then determine what exactly the dog did to cause the injury. While direct bite cases can be straight-forward, the strict liability bite law only applies to the bite itself. Often other injuries occur from the event. Often other injuries are the only injuries that have occurred, such as when a dog knocks someone down. Each different dog bite scenario must be analyzed on several different fronts to determine how to best proceed.

HOW IS FAULT DETERMINED IN A DOG BITE ACCIDENT?

In a case only involving a bite, the fault is determined by who owned or kept the dog at the time as well as whether or not the dog owner can raise the defense of “provocation.”

If the case is one involving injuries caused by the dog’s actions other than a bite, then common law standards of demonstrating negligence on behalf of the dog owner apply. As discussed above, we must also look at other people, the keeper or a landlord, to see if additional liability can be had by another person.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF INVOLVED IN A DOG BITE?

First, make sure you take care of your injuries. Second, you want to learn as much as you can about the dog, who owns it, who was in charge of it at the time and where it resides. Any information or photographs that you can take to demonstrate why the dog owner acted in an unreasonable manner that allowed the dog to bite of attack would be of importance. The names and contact information for the dog owner and any witnesses should be obtained.

How should you choose your lawyer?

It is difficult to select an attorney. Attorneys are good at self-promotion and persuasive arguments. All attorneys will happily tell you about how good they are in order to obtain your business. Here are some things that will help you sort through the marketing.

  1. First, look for experience. At Wiener & Lambka, PS we have more than 50 years experience in the personal injury field just between Bruce Wiener and James Lambka. We’ve seen almost any type of case that you can imagine and have dealt with almost any type of issue that can arise in this field.
  2. Second, look for track record. With attorneys, just obtaining a won / lose record is deceiving. Attorneys select what cases they want to work on and which ones to take to trial. Most attorneys do not take cases that are too difficult to trial because the costs and time of doing so must be offset by the strong possibility of obtaining an award sufficient to justify the work and expense. Many attorneys therefore only accept cases that have a very good chance of winning. Also, simply winning is only half of the story in any case. You can win and only obtain a small award for your client. The proper question is more, how successful have your cases been? While the previous outcome on cases is no guarantee that your case will also have a good outcome, a track record helps you to know that the attorneys are successful in their field.
  3. Third, look at reviews. While some sites, such as AVVO, utilize an algorithm that attempts to fairly rate the attorneys, for the most part these formulas are manipulatable and imprecise. A better method of understanding how good the attorney is involves looking at what former clients have to say about that attorney. You should not just go with a rating system either, but look at the comments and try to find someone that you think will provide the customer service and professional advice that you deserve.
  4. Call and talk with them. Do they treat you kindly and respectfully? Will they come to you to meet and go over your case? Do you feel comfortable? Trust your gut and ask questions that are important to you. At the end of your case, in order to obtain a settlement, the insurance company is going to have you sign a release. This release will basically say that, in exchange for the money, you will never ever ask for another penny, no matter what may happen in the future regarding your injuries. If you do not believe that your attorney has done a good job or if you do not trust them and their advice, then how will you be able to settle and release your legal claim? Find someone that you trust and work with them to make sure that your legal matter resolves successfully for you.

What types of things can I receive reimbursement for?

The negligent party is responsible for all of your reasonable losses. This means the damage to your person, medical bills, your lost wages, your out of pocket expenses, damage to personal property, your medical bills incurred for injuries, any future medical bills, future lost wages, future impairment of earning capacity, and your general damages – all pain and suffering and impairment of your life caused by the injuries you incurred. Individual cases may have additional forms of damages, but these are typically the ones looked at by most attorneys when presenting a case.

How long do you have to start a lawsuit?

In Washington, you have three years in which to either resolve or properly file and serve a lawsuit. If you do not take appropriate legal steps in front of the three year mark, then you will lose your rights to compensation. In reality, we suggest taking these steps at the two year mark in order to have time to discover and correct and problems with the legal process. Moreover, if you would prefer to avoid a lawsuit, and most people would, acting early is your best course of action. It takes time to gather the medical records and review same and understand a case for presentation, negotiation and settlement. Again, an early consultation with a good personal injury attorney is advised.

“Wiener & Lambka helped me through the process, always discussing all of the available options. In particular, I was happy about the ease with which I was able to access my attorneys.”- B. Froton
“A job well done! The staff at Wiener and Lambka made a point of explaining everything to me and if necessary I’d work with them again in a heartbeat.” - O. Yusuf
“The service and the staff were great. I was happy with everything, and would refer Wiener and Lambka to someone else in the future.” - I. Aleman
"It was a stress free experience. I particularly enjoyed when, on my initial call, they sent someone out to my house to speak with me in person. I would certainly use or recommend Wiener & Lambka in the future." - M. Randall
“The Staff at Wiener and Lambka are friendly and understand customer needs. They reduced their fee on my case and didn’t even take any on my son’s.” - M. Ngo
“In my moment of Crisis Wiener & Lambka lent me a helping hand. Their dedication to my case was outstanding. They stuck by my side and fought for my rights. Thank you!” - K. Tuazon
“I was satisfied by the timely manner with which my case was handled. I would definitely recommend Wiener & Lambka to a friend in the future.” - D. Yusuf
“You minimized my stress levels on a process foreign and scary to me. Very professional, caring, and patient with me.” - A. Maas
“Everything was great. It was the best legal experience I have ever had!” - T. Hoskins
"Wiener & Lambka always kept me up to date with my case. I'd certainly suggest them to a friend." - J. Trujillo
“Wiener & Lambka took care of the leg work for me and even managed to get a larger settlement than expected.” - J. Hanson
“Wiener and Lambka did a good job of keeping me up to date on my case, and I’d definitely suggest their services to someone looking for an attorney.” - L. Lafond
“Everyone was great. The staff at Wiener and Lambka make a good thing out of a bad situation, and for that, I am very thankful.” - D. Grami
“Wiener & Lambka get the job done. I appreciated their concern and interest in my case, and would definitely recommend them to a friend.” - Y. Martin
“Calls were returned in a timely manner, and the office staff is friendly. I’d recommend Wiener and Lambka to a friend in the future.” - T. Their

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