Depending on who you ask, dogs are either the favorite or second-favorite companion pets in America. Despite how much we love our dogs, these animals can bite and attack people. As with many things, the public perception of the law about dog bites in Washington State is different from the actual law. Not to worry, a lawyer can:
- Advise you on the law,
- Explore whether you have a viable claim for compensation,
- Work directly with the insurance company to seek a settlement, and
- File a lawsuit to recover damages for your injuries.
There Is No “One Bite” Law in Washington State
People assume that if a dog bites them, they have to prove that the dog was vicious or had a history of attacks and bites that the victims reported to the authorities. While that might be the case in some other states, there is no “one free bite” rule in our state. If a dog bites you and the situation does not fall within one of the exceptions, the owner is liable for your injuries.
We will have to locate the owner of the dog and prove ownership. A lawyer can assist you in this process and collect the evidence needed to establish who owns the dog.
Liability for Dog Bites
The owner of a dog is financially responsible to dog bite victims under this state statute:
“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.” RCW 16.08.040
Interpreting and Applying the Law on Dog Bites to Your Injury
We will need to talk with you about the facts of your case to determine if the state law applies to your situation. In general, if you were in a public place or lawfully on private property, the law protects you. Our dog bite liability statute does not protect trespassers. Also, people who sustain dog bites as the result of the lawful use of police dogs cannot use the statute to seek compensation from the dog’s owner.
Recoverable Damages for a Dog Bite in Washington State
Our statute does not limit the number of damages the owner might have to pay for a dog attack. The owner can be liable for whatever reasonable costs or losses you incurred because of the dog bite. These damages can include:
Economic damages: Medical bills and lost wages. We can gather the documentation to establish the total amount of these damages.
The owner can be responsible for all of your reasonable medical expenses from the attack, including the:
- Emergency room
- Surgeries – initial trauma surgery and subsequent plastic and reconstructive procedures
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Prescription drugs
Also, we can seek compensation for any wages, salary, or other income you lost because of the attack, medical treatments, and recuperation time.
Non-economic damages. After a dog attack, you can experience physical pain, mental anguish, inconvenience, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. We will calculate the reasonable amount of compensation for these losses.
Insurance Coverage for Dog Bites
Sometimes a person with a vicious dog does not have liability insurance that pays claims for people the dog injures. Insurance companies often refuse to cover a dog with a history of attacks. Many policies exclude dog bites or attacks entirely, regardless of the dog’s history. Some policies refuse to cover specific breeds that have a high incidence of large injury claims pay-outs.
If the owner of the dog does not have a homeowner’s liability policy that will pay your damages, we can explore other insurance options for you. For example, some people buy optional liability coverage in addition to their standard homeowner’s policy, called umbrella liability. Umbrella (also called excess liability) coverage can pay claims for injuries or property damage that other insurance does not cover. Some umbrella policies, however, exclude dog bites.
Animal liability insurance is a relatively new type of coverage, designed to meet the needs of dog owners to have liability protection and injured people to get compensation. We can explore whether the dog owner has this type of coverage. Be aware that some policy limits are low, such as $15,000, which can be grossly inadequate in the event of a significant dog attack.
How to Get Legal Help for a Dog Bite
We realize that Washington State’s dog bite laws may seem complicated, with the statute and its exceptions, insurance policies, and other technical issues. You do not have to figure out the law. The team at Max Meyers Law will be happy to talk with you and answer your questions about your claim for compensation for dog bite injuries. Just give us a call today at 425-399-7000, and we will schedule your free consultation.