What Is Strict Liability for a Dog Bite?

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Dog Barking and Showing Its TeethThe dog bite laws in Washington State hold a dog owner liable even if he was not negligent. The legal concept of strict liability in these situations means that whenever a dog bites someone, the owner is responsible for the injuries. There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to this general rule.

Dog Bite Law in Washington State

A dog’s owner is responsible when her dog bites someone as says the dog bite laws in Washington State. The state statute that controls these situations is RCW 16.08.040, which says:

“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.”

Exceptions to Strict Liability for Dog Bites in Washington State

The dog owner is not automatically responsible for the injuries when a dog bites someone in these two circumstances:

1. The bitten person was trespassing at the time of the dog bite. Washington State law does not protect trespassers from dog bites. Many people keep dogs on their property to frighten away trespassers, and our law allows this conduct. A landowner does not have to prevent his dogs from biting trespassers.

2. The bite happened during the lawful use of a police dog. When a police dog bites someone, the owner (the law enforcement agency) does not have to pay damages to the injured person unless someone was using the police dog unlawfully.

Let’s say that an officer was using a drug-sniffing police dog within department guidelines. A suspect became violent, and the dog bit him. The suspect cannot collect damages from the police department.

No “One Free Bite” for Dogs in Washington State

Another aspect of strict liability is that the very first time a dog bites someone, the owner is liable. In some other states, there is a “free bite” rule that bars an injured person from compensation if no one has previously reported the dog for biting. In our state, however, the dog owner can protest that she did not know her dog was vicious, but the owner will still be responsible to anyone the dog harms.

Reasonable Damages for a Dog Bite

The owner will have to pay all of your damages in a strict liability case. The statute holds dog owners responsible “for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten.” In other words, you can make a claim for whatever reasonable expenses you incurred as a result of the dog bite.

Reasonableness is a judgment call. A judge would probably find a person’s direct medical expenses to treat the bite reasonable but would not make the dog owner pay for the injured person to get unnecessary cosmetic procedures done while having surgery to repair the bite damage to her arms.

Types of Damages in Strict Liability Dog Bite Claims

The concept of strict liability does not affect what kinds of compensation you can collect so that you can pursue the same damages as in any other personal injury lawsuit. These categories can include:

Medical bills to repair the injury. These expenses can include the ambulance, emergency room, diagnostic testing, laboratory work, imaging like X-rays and CAT scans, treatments, procedures, hospitalization, and physical therapy.

Dog bites often require additional care, such as surgery to repair tissue damage, reconstructive surgery (particularly when a dog mauls a person’s face), and plastic surgery to minimize scars. Sometimes a patient requires skin grafts.

Lost wages if you missed work. You might have missed work because of the dog bite event, the medical care, physical therapy, and recuperation time. If you did not get paid or you lost income, the dog owner can be responsible for this loss.

Pain and suffering damages can compensate you for the physical pain, emotional distress, and inconvenience the dog bite caused. Paying the out-of-pocket expenses like medical bills does not compensate a person for the agony a dog bite can create.

Experiencing a traumatic injury can throw a wrench into your schedule and disrupt your life. If you have children or other loved ones who depend on you, the injury can disrupt their lives as well as yours.

PTSD. Many people who get mauled by a dog carry the burden of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years afterward. PTSD is a legitimate condition that can impact your life in many ways, causing depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Disfigurement. Dogs tend to bite the face, throat, and hands of people, which makes dog bites particularly disfiguring. The jagged presentation of these wounds makes them even more noticeable. Going through the rest of one’s life enduring whispers and stares when out in public is a loss, and the law can make the dog owner pay.

How to Get Legal Help for a Dog Bite Injury

If you call Max Meyers Law at 425-399-7000, we will schedule your free consultation. There is no obligation, and we do not charge legal fees until you get compensation. A dog bite lawyer can help you today.

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