Know Your Rights about Dog Bites

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An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year.  According to the American Medical Association, dog bites are the second leading cause of childhood injury in the U.S.

Dog bite laws vary from state to state. If you have been bitten by a dog in the State of Washington, the law is strongly on your side. So, who is then liable for your damages? Who has to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses?

Washington’s Dog Bite Statute

RCW 16.08.040 imposes strict liability upon the owner of a dog whom:

  • bites any person;
  • while such person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner;
  • regardless of the former viciousness of the dog; and
  • regardless of the dog owner’s knowledge of prior viciousness.

In Washington, a dog owner may be liable the first time his or her dog bites, even if the owner did not know and had no reason to know the dog might bite someone. In contrast, some states follow a “one-bite” rule, which requires a dog owner to know or have reason to know that the dog is dangerous before he or she can be held liable for damages.

Strict liability attaches only to the dog owner. Common law negligence claims, however, still exist against non-owners.

Defenses to Washington Dog Bite Claims

A dog owner has two defenses to a dog bite claim: provocation and trespassing.

The only statutory defense to cases subject to the strict liability standard is “provocation,” which is specified in RCW 16.08.060. It is a complete defense to a claim against a dog owner if it can be demonstrated that the victim was provoking the dog prior to the attack. Therefore, a claim for damages against the owner will likely fail if the dog is intentionally hit, teased, or taunted, and, as a result, bites the perpetrator.

A dog owner may also argue that the victim was trespassing. Washington’s dog bite law requires a bitten person to be on public property or “lawfully” on private property in order to recover damages. A person is generally lawfully on the dog owner’s premises if he or she has the implied or express consent of the owner, provided that such consent will not be presumed when the property of the owner is fenced or reasonably posted.

Time Limits for Washington Dog Bite Lawsuits

Washington’s deadline, or “statute of limitations,” for filing personal injury claims applies to dog bites.  In most cases, a dog bite lawsuit must be filed in a Washington court within three years of the date of injury.

If you have been injured by a dog you should consult a personal injury attorney about your potential claim.  Our firm would be happy to advise you of your rights and assist you in seeking compensation for your injuries.