This is How the Dog Bite Injury Laws in Washington Apply
Dog bites occur too often for comfort. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control indicate that up to 5 million people suffer dog bites every year.
It doesn't end there either. Hundreds of thousands of these injuries require medical attention. And in very serious cases, about 386,000 people bitten by dogs emergency medical treatment.
While dogs can be all fun and lovable, there's no fun in getting bitten by one. But as the statistics show, this is something that is more likely to happen than not.
What happens when you or your child or your loved one gets bitten by a dog? Who exactly will be held liable for the injuries you sustained? That's what the dog bite laws provide for.
Drawing on our extensive experience representing people from all over Washington, we have created this guide for you. It explains all you need to know about the dog laws in Washington and how you can recover compensation.
Duties expected of a dog owner
The taming of a dog, as with other domestic animals, is the responsibility of the owner. To help prevent dog bite injuries, owners have a duty owed to their ‘neighbors'.
They are expected to ensure that their pets are not a danger to others. If the pets may constitute a danger to others, their owners must do all that is necessary to mitigate the danger.
This duty, amongst others, includes keeping their dog's vaccinations up to date. The duties owed by dog owners include:
- Keeping their dog contained within premises;
- Putting the dog on a leash when in public;
- Properly training their dog to interact with humans. There's no doubt the likelihood of dog-bite occurrences with an aggressive dog;
- Supervising their animal when it interacts with strangers.
Leash laws for dogs
Licensing and Leash laws are made by cities or municipalities. All municipalities or cities have a law that prescribes these requirements for dog owners.
In the city of Tacoma for instance, the law requires that all cats and dogs be licensed. Also, other than in designated off leash areas, all dogs are required to be on a leash no longer than eight feet or confined within the property of their owners at all times.
If you find an unleashed dog or animal in public, you can contact the City of Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officers at (253) 591-5000.
Washington's dog bite law
The state of Washington is a ‘strict liability' state when it comes to dog bites. It follows the ‘one bite' rule.
This means that a dog owner may be liable for the first time a dog bites. This would be the case even if the owner didn't know or had no reason to know that the dog might bite someone. For the ‘one bite' rule, prior aggressive or dangerous behavior may be used in holding the dog owner accountable for the dog bite.
Regardless of the breed of the dog, in Tacoma and other parts of Washington, owners will be held liable for any injury inflicted by a dog bite if:
- The injured person was in a public place; or
- The injured person was lawfully within the owner's premises; and
- There was no provocation on the part of the injured person.
It must be noted however that this strict liability rule only applies to dog bite injuries. It doesn't cover injuries caused by other dog-related incidents.
For instance, if a dog escapes from its confines and knocks over a child, the owner may be liable. However, there would be no strict liability. It would have to be established that the owner knew or ought to have known of the danger and was negligent in some way.
Defenses to Washington dog bite claims
Despite the strict laws in effect against dog bites, the cases are not always cut and dried. Dog owners also have defenses that they may rely on. The two most common defenses are provocation and trespass.
Washington's dog bite law provides that “proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person shall be a complete defense to an action for damages”. This means that the dog owner will not be held liable if they can prove that the bite occurred because the injured person provoked or taunted the dog.
Likewise, when a dog bites a person who has entered the owner's property unlawfully or without permission the owner can raise trespass as a defense.
Compensation of workers for dog bite injuries
For some, work requires entry onto private property. Mail carriers and deliverymen for instance often have to do this. Under the law, workers such as these have an ‘implied license' to enter the premises.
As such, if they get bitten by a dog while on duty, they may have a claim for liability. This will however depend on the specific details of the case.
Generally, workers' compensation should cover medical and wage replacement benefits for employees injured on the job. As such, a worker on duty bitten by the dog of a property owner can submit a claim for workers' compensation benefits.
However, the employee bitten during the course of employment may also have a claim against the owner of the dog. This additional claim may be submitted through a third-party claim for extra compensation not ordinarily covered by workers' compensation.
Recovering damages for a dog bite
As mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of dog bite laws is to keep people safe and hold dog owners accountable. Yes, we all love dogs, but you're hardly to meet anyone that would love to get bitten by one.
If you do get bitten and injured by a dog, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries. This compensation could include:
- Current and future medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Compensation for pain and suffering; and
- Emotional distress.
In order to receive this compensation though, you would need to show that you deserve to be compensated. This can often be a tricky affair though, because you're not likely to be thinking of how to prove your claim, while suffering a dog bite.
There's no way to get around this though. Even for a strict liability claim, insurance companies and the court will require proof that your injuries were due to a bite from the particular dog. It is possible to provide this proof though, especially if you can secure the following:
- Pictures: Clear photographs of your injury and the scene where it occurred can help your claim. These can prove where you were at the time of the bite and how serious the bite was.
- Witness statements: If you can secure statements from any witnesses that were at the scene, it will help your claim as well. These statements can help corroborate what the pictures show and make your claim stronger.
- Doctor's report: This is one area you should never skip. Immediately after the incident, go to the hospital and let a doctor attend to your injuries. The report will help show that the bites came from a dog and can even help you match the bite to the dog.
Statute of Limitations on Dog Bite Claims
A statute of limitations limits the period within which a claim can be initiated against the liable party. When the time frame lapses, you may lose your compensation as you'll no longer be able to file a claim.
In Tacoma and Washington generally, you may no longer be able to file a dog bite claim if 3 years have elapsed after the date of the injury. This is why you should immediately contact a lawyer after a dog bite incident.
Get in touch with us
If you have been bitten by a dog or if your loved one has suffered a dog bite injury, contact us at The Curtis Firm. Our attorneys have the skill and knowledge to take up your cases. Attorney James Curtis will personally review your case and help you understand your legal options and rights. Call us at 253-327-1063 or contact us here to schedule a free no-obligation consultation today.