Although dogs are referred to as “man’s best friend,” they can be dangerous. A dog bite can cause serious injury or even death. A person bitten by a dog in Washington is entitled to recover damages (money) from any person legally responsible for allowing the bite to occur. For example, a dog bite victim can recover for medical costs attributable to the bite. And if he or she missed work because of the bite, they can recover their lost wages. In addition, the victim is entitled to recover damages for all pain, suffering, emotional distress (e.g., fear of dogs), and permanent disfigurement (e.g., scarring) caused by the bite.
What to do after a dog bite
If you are bitten by a dog, seek medical care immediately! Once the bite has been treated, call 911 and report the bite to the local authorities. Document your injuries by taking photographs of the wound. Follow through on the advice of your medical provider by obtaining any further recommended treatment. Once you are on the road to recovering from the bite, speak with a qualified and reputable personal injury attorney regarding your rights.
Dog Bite Liability in Washington
In Washington, a dog bite victim can pursue damages for his or her injuries under one or more of the following theories of liability:
- Statutory Strict Liability. Washington statutes provide that a dog owner is strictly liable for all damages suffered by a person bitten by the dog in a public place or on the private property of the owner. It is called “strict” liability because the owner is liable even if she had no knowledge that the dog was likely to bite someone. The owner can avoid liability only if it is proven that the victim did not have permission to be on the owner’s property, or that the victim provoked the dog.
- Common Law Strict Liability. Under the “common law,” which is the old system of law that the United States inherited from England, a person who owns or keeps a dog is strictly liable to a person bitten by that dog, if the owner/keeper should know that the dog has a vicious nature. The owner/keeper can defend against this theory by proving that the victim provoked the dog, or that the victim was bitten while intentionally trespassing on the owner/keeper’s land.
- Negligence. A dog bite victim can recover under a negligence theory against a person who fails to effectively control the dog in a situation where it should be expected a dog bite could occur. The amount of control required in any particular situation is based on the past behavior of the dog and the extent to which the bite is foreseeable by the person controlling the dog. For example, a dog who has attacked people on several occasions must be kept on a very tight leash (and probably muzzled), while few precautions need be taken by a person in control of an extremely friendly dog who has never growled at anyone.
- Premises Liability. Under this theory, a dog who bites a victim on private property is considered a “dangerous condition on the land,” like a slippery stairway or a rotten deck that collapses when too many people stand on it. To prevail under this theory, the victim must generally prove that the owner or occupier of the land: (a) should have known the dog posed a danger, (b) should have known the victim would be unaware of the danger, and (c) failed to use reasonable care in protecting the victim from the dog.