What Are the Dog Bite Laws in Washington State?

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Beware of Dog SignIf you have experienced the terror of a dog attack, you might wonder how the law can allow this to happen. Our state statutes are supposed to protect us and make it safe for us to walk around peaceably without fearing that animals will maul us.

The laws of Washington state do offer some protection by making owners responsible for paying whatever damage their dogs cause when they bite people. Here is the language of the 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.”

Who Is Liable Under Washington State’s Dog Bite Statute

The owner is the one liable when a dog bites someone. So, if some kids take the family dog for a walk and the animal bites you, the owner has to pay your damages. It is not a defense that the children could not control the animal or that the owner did not permit the kids to walk the dog.

Dog Breeds Do Not Affect Your Right to Compensation

Legislation in some parts of the United States targets specific breeds, but the law in our state cares more about the victim than the breed of the dog. It does not matter if the dog that bit you is a massive St. Bernard or a tiny Chihuahua. The law says “any dog.”

Who Gets the Protection of Washington State’s Dog Bite Law

The law protects “any person,” who got bitten when they were:

  • In any public place, or
  • Lawfully on private property

Trespassers cannot sue the dog owner for their dog bite damages.

No Cap on the Damages for Dog Bites

The owner has to pay “such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten.” Notice that the law does not say something like “up to $50,000,” or any other limiting language. Whatever damages you sustained from the dog bite are the responsibility of the owner.

So, if you had a $3,000 emergency room bill and did not need additional medical care, the owner has to pay the $3,000 expense. On the other hand, if a dog bit someone in the face and the person needed several reconstructive and plastic surgeries, with medical bills totaling over $200,000, the dog owner is liable for that amount.

No Free Bite Rule in Washington State

In many states, you cannot hold the owner responsible for your damages unless the dog previously bit you or someone else. Known as the “one bite” or “one free bite” rule, this law puts the burden on the injured person to investigate and prove what the dog did in the past. Washington State protects dog bite victims and does not treat you differently because of the animal’s history.

It is also no defense in our state for the owner to declare that the dog has always been gentle. The law says the owner is responsible for the bite damages “regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.”

No Negligence Required

In most personal injury lawsuits, you have to prove that the person who caused your injury was careless or negligent. Thanks to Washington State’s dog bite statute, you do not have to show any negligence on the part of the animal’s owner. Our state law makes dog owners strictly liable to people their dog’s bite unless the victim is a trespasser.

Local Dog Leash Laws

Many municipalities throughout the state of Washington require that pet owners keep their dogs and other domestic animals on leashes whenever the animals are in public places. State law does not require the use of leashes except in state parks.

If a dog is violating the local leash law when the animal bites you, the owner can be subject to fines and other consequences in addition to having to pay your damages. Also, a judge and jury are likely to “throw the book at” a dog owner who refuses to obey the local ordinances, resulting in the injury of an innocent person.

Washington State Law on Reporting Dog Bites

Health care providers must report animal bites if they suspect that a human experienced possible exposure to rabies. They must notify public health authorities to prevent and “control communicable and noninfectious diseases” throughout the state.

The health care provider’s records can be valuable evidence for us to prove your dog bite damages case. The report will contain information about your case that can establish the owner’s liability for your losses.

How to Get Help for a Dog Bite Case in Washington State

You can meet with us for free to find out if you might have a claim for compensation for your dog bite injuries. Call us at 425-399-7000, and we will arrange your no-cost consultation.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.