Dog Bites

Dog Bites

Dog Bite General Information

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 4.7 million people are victims of dog bites each year. Most of these dogs are family pets. But this is not always the case. If you have been the victim of a dog bite, the law allows you to seek monetary compensation for medical bills and associated costs.

The standards for liability in dog bite lawsuits vary from state to state. In most states, the standards rely on precedent. If the owner is aware of a previous attack or vicious injury inflicted by his dog and decides to keep the dog, he is liable for all subsequent attacks, assuming the dog is not provoked. Other states evaluate dog bite lawsuits on a case-to-case basis. In these cases, the dog’s past behavior weighs heavily in the decision. In Washington, the behavior of the dog is not always considered; the owner is usually strictly liable for the dog bite.

Personal injury attorneys are essential to the successful resolution of a lawsuit and the size of the financial compensation. Our personal injury attorneys in Seattle, Washington, possess the knowledge and experience needed to effectively represent your case.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior, we encourage you to contact our highly qualified personal injury attorneys, conveniently located in Seattle, Washington.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) most recent report on dog bites includes the following information:

  • Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year.
  • Aside from the immediate physical, emotional and psychological trauma inflicted, 1 in 5 of these bites becomes infected. It is therefore of great important, even if the bite is small, to seek appropriate medical care to help make sure that the wound does not become infected.
  • The highest rate of bites by age occurs to children 5 to 9 years old. Men are more likely than woman to be bitten by a dog. Children are more likely to receive medical attention for a bite than an adult is.
  • Over half of dog-bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to the person bit. The possibilities of being bitten increase disproportionately when the number of dogs in the home is increased. Adults with two or more dogs in their home are five times more likely to be bitten than those without a dog in the home.

Safety Tips:

  • If approached by an unfamiliar dog, remain motionless
  • Avoid direct eye contact
  • Say “No” or “Go Home” in a stern, deep commanding voice
  • Stand with the side of your body facing the dog
  • Wait for the dog to pass, or if not possible, slowly back away yourself
  • If knocked over by a dog curl into a ball with your head tucked and protect your ears and neck with your hands

DO NOT – approach an unfamiliar dog, run from a dog, panic or make loud noises

In the home setting the CDC advises that small children should not be allowed to play with a dog in an unsupervised manner and one should not encourage aggressive behavior in the dog including “aggressive play.”

If you are bitten by a dog, the CDC recommends:

  • Once in a safe place, immediately wash any sounds with soap and water. Seek medical attention, especially if :
    • The wound is serious (uncontrolled bleeding, extreme pain, loss of function)
    • If the wound becomes red, painful, warm or swollen, or if you develop a fever;
    • If you have not had a tetanus shot in more than 5 years and the bite is deep
  • Consider contacting your local animal control agency or police department to report the incident, especially if the dog was acting sickly or strangely.
  • Consider contacting the owner to insure that the animal has a current rabies vaccination. You will need the rabies vaccine licenses’ number, name of the veterinarian who administered the a vaccine and the owner’s name address and phone number.

Summary of Washington Law

Because animals are unpredictable, dog bites will continue to occur often without regard to whether or not the dog’s owner acts or fails to act in a manner that would be considered negligent. In some states, there are what are commonly referred to as “free first bite” laws. This means that unless or until the dog bites someone, the owner is not legally liable for the bite because, in theory, the owner was not on notice of the dog’s dangerous tendencies. Washington does not follow this theory.

In Washington state an owner or keeper of a dog is automatically liable for the damage inflicted by the dog’s bite except in situations where the person bit was trespassing or if the person bit can be shown to have provoked the dog’s attack. The dog owner can also be found liable for negligently allowing a bite or attack depending upon the circumstances of each individual case, such as when the animal has bitten or attacked someone in the past, where the breed of dog is known to be dangerous, where no precautions were taken to maintain appropriate control over the animal, or any combination of unique factors that would lead one to believe that the owner acted in an unreasonable manner that allowed for the attack to take place.

Detailed Discussion of Washington Law

While some of the law on dog bites is quite straightforward, there are always interpretations surrounding important terms and also case law that has accumulated explaining the statute as well as establishing common law causes of action relating to dog bites. For example, the Dog bite statute 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.

First off, we can see that the owner of a dog that bite’s another is automatically liable as long as the person bit was in a public place or “lawfully in or on a private place.” Generally this means that trespassers or people on land for the purposes of committing a crime do not get the protection of this law. Insurance companies will attempt to deny liability if there is any chance that the person bit did not have express or implied permission to be at the owner’s home. Implied permission means that the general public, a girl scout selling cookies door to door (this doesn’t really happen anymore but is a good hypothetical) would be someone who is not trespassing and would normally have implied permission to be in the yard or at the door of a residence. The presence of signs, fencing and other items would need to be taken into account to help determine the status of the person bitten. In fact, the statute states in a different section that, “ 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.” Question can abound regarding whether the signage was adequate or whether the type of fence appropriate to fit into this statutory scheme.

Also, the statue here only refers to the owner of the dog. What if the owner had left the dog with another person? For how long? Under what circumstances? Does the keeper of the dog have the same exposure? This is answered in a different part of the statute where “owner” is defined as “any person, firm, corporation, organization, or department possessing, harboring, keeping, having an interest in, or having control or custody of an animal.”

The next important consideration is that the statute provides another exception to the automatic liability of the owner for the dog bite, namely when the owner can demonstrate proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person. If the bite was “provoked” then this would be a complete defense to an action for damages.

Provocation is not defined by the statute and there are no cases that adequately address exactly what this entails. Would a three year old waving and talking loudly or screaming be enough to constitute “provocation?” Does entering onto the dog’s territory constitute “provocation.” In any area of the law where a key term is not defined, then it is subject to argument as to what, exactly it entails. When an insurance company looks at a dog bite case in Washington, they typically seek first to determine if they can argue about provocation on behalf of the bitten individual.

Local laws also have interplay with the Revised Code of the State of Washington and need to be explored. For example Seattle has its own local ordinances , which can be found at: https://www.municode.com/library/wa/seattle/codes/municipal_code

The statute of limitations in Washington to bring a lawsuit that stems from a dog bite is three years from the date of the bite. Because lawsuits don’t just get filed and served overnight, it is important that you stay well in front of this deadline.

In addition to the damages allowed by virtue of the actual bite, the owner can also be responsible for all damages that naturally flowed from the incident, including lost wages and whatever physical, emotional and psychological trauma that occurred as a direct result of the injuries and incident. Anyone injured through the negligence or another person or by a dog bite should take all due care to limit the harms caused from the incident.

The manner in which most recoveries are made is by obtaining the dog owner’s homeowners or rental insurance information and then dealing directly with that company.

In addition to the dog bite statute, any owner or keeper of a dog who, through negligent acts or omissions, allows the dog to cause harm to another person can be found responsible for same. This applies to cases where the animal does not bite someone but knocks them down , causing injury, or can be in addition to the claim under the dog bite statute.

Landlords are currently not legally liable for the actions of animals owned or kept by their tenants, even where the landlord had notice of the dangerous propensities of the animal.

Washington Dog Bite Statute

The Revised Code of Washington section 16.08 DOGS (this information can also be viewed on the Washington State Legislature’s website).

16.08.010
Liability for injury to stock by dogs.

The owner or keeper of any dog shall be liable to the owner of any animal killed or injured by such dog for the amount of damages sustained and costs of collection, to be recovered in a civil action.
[1985 c 415 § 14; 1929 c 198 § 5; RRS § 3106. Prior: 1919 c 6 § 5; RCS § 3106.]

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16.08.020
Dogs injuring stock may be killed.

It shall be lawful for any person who shall see any dog or dogs chasing, biting, injuring or killing any sheep, swine or other domestic animal, including poultry, belonging to such person, on any real property owned or leased by, or under the control of, such person, or on any public highway, to kill such dog or dogs, and it shall be the duty of the owner or keeper of any dog or dogs so found chasing, biting or injuring any domestic animal, including poultry, upon being notified of that fact by the owner of such domestic animals or poultry, to thereafter keep such dog or dogs in leash or confined upon the premises of the owner or keeper thereof, and in case any such owner or keeper of a dog or dogs shall fail or neglect to comply with the provisions of this section, it shall be lawful for the owner of such domestic animals or poultry to kill such dog or dogs found running at large.
[1929 c 198 § 6; RRS § 3107. Prior: 1919 c 6 § 6; 1917 c 161 § 6; RCS § 3107.]

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16.08.030
Marauding dog—Duty of owner to kill.

It shall be the duty of any person owning or keeping any dog or dogs which shall be found killing any domestic animal to kill such dog or dogs within forty-eight hours after being notified of that fact, and any person failing or neglecting to comply with the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and it shall be the duty of the sheriff or any deputy sheriff to kill any dog found running at large (after the first day of August of any year and before the first day of March in the following year) without a metal identification tag.
[1929 c 198 § 7; RRS § 3108. Prior: 1919 c 6 § 7; 1917 c 161 § 7; RCS § 3108.]

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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.]

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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.]

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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.]

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16.08.070
Dangerous dogs and related definitions.

Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section apply throughout RCW 16.08.070 through 16.08.100.
(1) “Potentially dangerous dog” means any dog that when unprovoked: (a) Inflicts bites on a human or a domestic animal either on public or private property, or (b) chases or approaches a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, or any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or to cause injury or otherwise to threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals.
(2) “Dangerous dog” means any dog that (a) inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property, (b) kills a domestic animal without provocation while the dog is off the owner’s property, or (c) has been previously found to be potentially dangerous because of injury inflicted on a human, the owner having received notice of such and the dog again aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans.
(3) “Severe injury” means any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.
(4) “Proper enclosure of a dangerous dog” means, while on the owner’s property, a dangerous dog shall be securely confined indoors or in a securely enclosed and locked pen or structure, suitable to prevent the entry of young children and designed to prevent the animal from escaping. Such pen or structure shall have secure sides and a secure top, and shall also provide protection from the elements for the dog.
(5) “Animal control authority” means an entity acting alone or in concert with other local governmental units for enforcement of the animal control laws of the city, county, and state and the shelter and welfare of animals.
(6) “Animal control officer” means any individual employed, contracted with, or appointed by the animal control authority for the purpose of aiding in the enforcement of this chapter or any other law or ordinance relating to the licensure of animals, control of animals, or seizure and impoundment of animals, and includes any state or local law enforcement officer or other employee whose duties in whole or in part include assignments that involve the seizure and impoundment of any animal.
(7) “Owner” means any person, firm, corporation, organization, or department possessing, harboring, keeping, having an interest in, or having control or custody of an animal.
[2002 c 244 § 1; 1987 c 94 § 1.]
NOTES:
Severability—1987 c 94: “If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.” [1987 c 94 § 6.]

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16.08.080
Dangerous dogs—Notice to owners—Right of appeal—Certificate of registration required—Surety bond—Liability insurance—Restrictions.

(1) Any city or county that has a notification and appeal procedure with regard to determining a dog within its jurisdiction to be dangerous may continue to utilize or amend its procedure. A city or county animal control authority that does not have a notification and appeal procedure in place as of June 13, 2002, and seeks to declare a dog within its jurisdiction, as defined in subsection (7) of this section, to be dangerous must serve notice upon the dog owner in person or by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested.
(2) The notice must state: The statutory basis for the proposed action; the reasons the authority considers the animal dangerous; a statement that the dog is subject to registration and controls required by this chapter, including a recitation of the controls in subsection (6) of this section; and an explanation of the owner’s rights and of the proper procedure for appealing a decision finding the dog dangerous.
(3) Prior to the authority issuing its final determination, the authority shall notify the owner in writing that he or she is entitled to an opportunity to meet with the authority, at which meeting the owner may give, orally or in writing, any reasons or information as to why the dog should not be declared dangerous. The notice shall state the date, time, and location of the meeting, which must occur prior to expiration of fifteen calendar days following delivery of the notice. The owner may propose an alternative meeting date and time, but such meeting must occur within the fifteen-day time period set forth in this section. After such meeting, the authority must issue its final determination, in the form of a written order, within fifteen calendar days. In the event the authority declares a dog to be dangerous, the order shall include a recital of the authority for the action, a brief concise statement of the facts that support the determination, and the signature of the person who made the determination. The order shall be sent by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested, or delivered in person to the owner at the owner’s last address known to the authority.
(4) If the local jurisdiction has provided for an administrative appeal of the final determination, the owner must follow the appeal procedure set forth by that jurisdiction. If the local jurisdiction has not provided for an administrative appeal, the owner may appeal a municipal authority’s final determination that the dog is dangerous to the municipal court, and may appeal a county animal control authority’s or county sheriff’s final determination that the dog is dangerous to the district court. The owner must make such appeal within twenty days of receiving the final determination. While the appeal is pending, the authority may order that the dog be confined or controlled in compliance with RCW 16.08.090. If the dog is determined to be dangerous, the owner must pay all costs of confinement and control.
(5) It is unlawful for an owner to have a dangerous dog in the state without a certificate of registration issued under this section. This section and RCW 16.08.090 and 16.08.100 shall not apply to police dogs as defined in RCW4.24.410.
(6) Unless a city or county has a more restrictive code requirement, the animal control authority of the city or county in which an owner has a dangerous dog shall issue a certificate of registration to the owner of such animal if the owner presents to the animal control unit sufficient evidence of:
(a) A proper enclosure to confine a dangerous dog and the posting of the premises with a clearly visible warning sign that there is a dangerous dog on the property. In addition, the owner shall conspicuously display a sign with a warning symbol that informs children of the presence of a dangerous dog;
(b) A surety bond issued by a surety insurer qualified under chapter 48.28 RCW in a form acceptable to the animal control authority in the sum of at least two hundred fifty thousand dollars, payable to any person injured by the dangerous dog; or
(c) A policy of liability insurance, such as homeowner’s insurance, issued by an insurer qualified under Title 48 RCW in the amount of at least two hundred fifty thousand dollars, insuring the owner for any personal injuries inflicted by the dangerous dog.
(7)(a)(i) If an owner has the dangerous dog in an incorporated area that is serviced by both a city and a county animal control authority, the owner shall obtain a certificate of registration from the city authority;
(ii) If an owner has the dangerous dog in an incorporated or unincorporated area served only by a county animal control authority, the owner shall obtain a certificate of registration from the county authority;
(iii) If an owner has the dangerous dog in an incorporated or unincorporated area that is not served by an animal control authority, the owner shall obtain a certificate of registration from the office of the local sheriff.
(b) This subsection does not apply if a city or county does not allow dangerous dogs within its jurisdiction.
(8) Cities and counties may charge an annual fee, in addition to regular dog licensing fees, to register dangerous dogs.
(9) Nothing in this section limits a local authority in placing additional restrictions upon owners of dangerous dogs. This section does not require a local authority to allow a dangerous dog within its jurisdiction.
[2002 c 244 § 2; 1989 c 26 § 3; 1987 c 94 § 2.]
NOTES:
Severability—1987 c 94: See note following RCW 16.08.070.

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16.08.090
Dangerous dogs—Requirements for restraint—Potentially dangerous dogs—Dogs not declared dangerous.

(1) It is unlawful for an owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside the proper enclosure unless the dog is muzzled and restrained by a substantial chain or leash and under physical restraint of a responsible person. The muzzle shall be made in a manner that will not cause injury to the dog or interfere with its vision or respiration but shall prevent it from biting any person or animal.
(2) Potentially dangerous dogs shall be regulated only by local, municipal, and county ordinances. Nothing in this section limits restrictions local jurisdictions may place on owners of potentially dangerous dogs.
(3) Dogs shall not be declared dangerous if the threat, injury, or damage was sustained by a person who, at the time, was committing a willful trespass or other tort upon the premises occupied by the owner of the dog, or was tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog or has, in the past, been observed or reported to have tormented, abused, or assaulted the dog or was committing or attempting to commit a crime.
[1987 c 94 § 3.]
NOTES:
Severability—1987 c 94: See note following RCW 16.08.070.

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16.08.100
Dangerous dogs—Confiscation—Conditions—Duties of animal control authority—Penalties and affirmative defenses for owners of dogs that attack—Dog fights, penalty.

(1) Any dangerous dog shall be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority if the: (a) Dog is not validly registered under RCW 16.08.080; (b) owner does not secure the liability insurance coverage required under RCW 16.08.080; (c) dog is not maintained in the proper enclosure; or (d) dog is outside of the dwelling of the owner, or outside of the proper enclosure and not under physical restraint of the responsible person. The owner must pay the costs of confinement and control. The animal control authority must serve notice upon the dog owner in person or by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested, specifying the reason for the confiscation of the dangerous dog, that the owner is responsible for payment of the costs of confinement and control, and that the dog will be destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner if the deficiencies for which the dog was confiscated are not corrected within twenty days. The animal control authority shall destroy the confiscated dangerous dog in an expeditious and humane manner if any deficiencies required by this subsection are not corrected within twenty days of notification. In addition, the owner shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021.
(2) If a dangerous dog of an owner with a prior conviction under this chapter attacks or bites a person or another domestic animal, the dog’s owner is guilty of a class C felony, punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021. It is an affirmative defense that the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she was in compliance with the requirements for ownership of a dangerous dog pursuant to this chapter and the person or domestic animal attacked or bitten by the defendant’s dog trespassed on the defendant’s real or personal property or provoked the defendant’s dog without justification or excuse. In addition, the dangerous dog shall be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, placed in quarantine for the proper length of time, and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.
(3) The owner of any dog that aggressively attacks and causes severe injury or death of any human, whether or not the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a class C felony punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021. It is an affirmative defense that the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the human severely injured or killed by the defendant’s dog: (a) Trespassed on the defendant’s real or personal property which was enclosed by fencing suitable to prevent the entry of young children and designed to prevent the dog from escaping and marked with clearly visible signs warning people, including children, not to trespass and to beware of dog; or (b) provoked the defendant’s dog without justification or excuse on the defendant’s real or personal property which was enclosed by fencing suitable to prevent the entry of young children and designed to prevent the dog from escaping and marked with clearly visible signs warning people, including children, not to trespass and to beware of dog. In such a prosecution, the state has the burden of showing that the owner of the dog either knew or should have known that the dog was potentially dangerous as defined in this chapter. The state may not meet its burden of proof that the owner should have known the dog was potentially dangerous solely by showing the dog to be a particular breed or breeds. In addition, the dog shall be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, quarantined, and upon conviction of the owner destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.
(4) Any person entering a dog in a dog fight is guilty of a class C felony punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021.
[2002 c 244 § 3; 1987 c 94 § 4.]
NOTES:
Severability—1987 c 94: See note following RCW 16.08.070.

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