In the United States, an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, with about 20% of the victims requiring medical attention for their injuries. About half of the victims of dog bites are children under 12 years old.
Among the types of injuries that occur with dog bites, facial injuries can be the most severe. They often require surgery and sometimes cause permanent damage.
The good news is that Washington State's dog bite law empowers victims to recover damages for dog bite injuries, including compensation for expenses arising from facial injuries. However, victims should act quickly after the injury occurs to take advantage of the law and their legal rights.
Let's discuss Washington's dog bite law in general, talk about the types of facial injuries that can occur and how they are treated, and what you can do to receive proper compensation if you or your child suffers a dog bite injury to the face.
An Overview of Washington's Dog Bite Law
Washington's dog bite law (Washington Revised Code: Title 16, Section 16.08.010) is quite straightforward and quite strict, placing liability for dog bites squarely on the shoulders of the dog owner in most cases. The owner of the dog that bites you is liable for any damages or injury caused even if the dog has never before shown signs of aggression. The only exceptions to liability are:
- If you were trespassing on the owner's private property when the dog attacked;
- The dog in question is a police dog; or
- If the owner can prove you provoked the dog.
How Facial Injuries Happen With Dog Bites
Dog bites can cause injury anywhere on the body, but the face is particularly vulnerable for several reasons:
- Dogs often instinctively lunge for the face because it is where they can inflict the most damage.
- Dogs that are large enough to cause significant injury can easily reach the face of a standing adult.
- Children are particularly vulnerable because dogs of many sizes can reach their faces more easily.
Common Facial Injuries That Occur With Dog Bites
Most facial dog bites result in some form of soft tissue damage, but because of the many nerves and sensory organs associated with our faces, dog bites can cause a variety of serious injuries and complications. These may include:
- Permanent scarring, which affects one's appearance
- Broken bones (e.g., broken nose, facial bone fractures)
- Amputation (e.g., severed nose, lips, cheeks, or ears)
- Nerve damage to the face, causing loss of feeling, paralysis, slurred speech, or even affecting one's ability to chew and swallow food
- Serious infection—caused by harmful bacteria in the dog's saliva
- Vision impairment, including partial or complete blindness
- Dental damage resulting in loss of teeth, infection around the roots of the teeth, and other problems
What to Do After a Facial Injury Caused by a Dog Bite
If you or your child sustains a facial injury due to a dog attack, the steps you take immediately following could have a significant effect both on your/their recovery and the amount you may be able to collect in compensatory damages. In the aftermath of the dog bite, do the following as soon as possible.
- Get medical attention immediately. Delaying treatment could cause complications as well as affecting your ability to collect damages later. Keep all documentation of medical treatment, medical bills, etc.
- Report the incident to the police. This helps you to collect police reports and other documents and records proving your case at trial.
- Locate and identify the dog's owner. If the dog was loose and alone, animal control or the police department can help you with this step.
- Call a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible. With effective legal representation, you can maximize your ability to recover damages and minimize any negative impact the incident could have on future earning potential.
Potential Damages to Collect in a Facial Injury Case
When you or your loved one is injured by a dog bite, the losses may extend well beyond just the cost of treatment. Let's look at what you may be able to collect with the help of a skilled attorney:
- Cost of medical treatment and care. This includes the immediate expenses involved with healing and repairing your injuries (e.g. surgery, hospital stays), along with any therapies and ongoing treatments for the foreseeable future.
- Loss of income. This includes any lost wages for time off of work due to the injury itself, plus any potential loss of wages for the future if the facial injury disrupts your chosen profession (modeling or acting, for example).
- Pain and suffering. These damages are more intangible, but they are intended to compensate you for any physical, emotional, and mental anguish associated with the trauma of the dog bite incident.
- Loss of enjoyment. You may be able to collect compensation for the lingering effects of the dog bite injury that reduce your quality of life (for example, loss of sight, loss of smell/taste, or loss of feeling in your face).
- Punitive damages. In rare cases, the court may award additional damages as punishment for the dog owner in cases of extreme negligence or deliberate bad faith.
How a Dog Bite Attorney Can Help You
Washington State law makes the dog owner legally liable for bite injuries, but that doesn't mean compensation is automatic. It's important to hire a skilled dog bite injury attorney as soon as possible to improve your chances of collecting damages. A good attorney can:
- Gather evidence to prove your claim (including medical bills, police reports, witnesses, etc.) while the evidence is still fresh
- Negotiate with the dog owner's insurance company to ensure they pay the maximum amount allowable to cover your cost of recovery
- Ensure your claim is filed within the allowable statute of limitations in the State of Washington (three years from the date of the injury)
- Negotiate an acceptable settlement out of court—or litigate the case in court to hold the responsible party accountable
Facial injuries occurring from a dog bite can be highly traumatic and painful, affecting your life for years to come. Fortunately, you can recover damages to help you reclaim some quality of life. The legal team at Max Meyers Law can help. Contact our offices to schedule a free consultation or call us at 425-399-7000.