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.
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:
|Year||Value of Claims
|Number of Claims||Average Cost
|% 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.
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:
Wash Wounds with Soap and Water
When you get to a safe place, immediately wash wounds with soap and water. Seek medical attention, especially:
Report the Bite
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:
The CDC website containing the above informaiotn can be found here:
WASHINGTON DOG BITE LAW:
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:
(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.]
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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