What is Washington State’s Dog Bite Law?

Like many places in Washington today, Seattle is becoming more and more dog-friendly. Businesses like restaurants and hotels – really virtually anyplace their owners patronize – now welcome dogs with open arms.

While it’s great the modern world has become more friendly to our canine companions, there are risks involved with bringing people and dogs together such close quarters. Not every dog can handle the commotion of large groups of people and other animals in confined spaces. Unfortunately, not everyone is a responsible dog owner. And the truth is every dog is capable of biting when stressed out.

A dog attack can be very serious, even if it’s from a small dog. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 4.7 million dog bites in the United States every year. Of those dog bites, 800,000 require medical attention. With the possibility of such serious consequences, it is very important to know what to do if you or a loved one suffers a dog bite. If you or a loved one has been on the receiving end of a dog bite, contact Washington Injury Law today.

Washington’s Dog Bite Law

Washington has specific dog bite laws to go along with the state’s pet-friendliness. Section 16.08.040 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) states:

“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.”

Washington’s dog bite law is very straightforward. As a dog’s owner you are liable for any injuries your dog causes to another person both in public and – if the person is there legally and did not provoke the dog – on your own property. Section 16.08.040 only applies to dog bite incidents. Other cases of canine destructive behavior would fall under parts of the RCW that address negligence.

 What is The Timeline for Filing A Dog Bite Claim?

A statute of limitations applies to filing a dog bite claim in Washington. Dog bite claims follow the same timeline like any other personal injury claim, meaning a person filing a lawsuit seeking damages for a dog bite injury must file within three years from the date of the injury. The courts will most likely dismiss a case without a hearing if a person files after the three-year deadline. It is very important to always understand the statute of limitations in your area when filing a claim or lawsuit.

Common Defenses of Dog Owners

The most common defenses dog owners use in Washington are trespassing and provocation. Other useful defenses include posting signs and the law enforcement exemption. A dog owner may argue as many defenses as are applicable to their case.

  • Trespassing is a common dog bite defense. Washington law states that a person must legally and lawfully be on private property – and not performing any illegal or unlawful behavior – to file a claim seeking compensation. For example, a burglar engaged in breaking into someone’s home cannot file a lawsuit because the homeowner’s dog bit him as he was committing the crime.
  • Proof of provocation is another highly effective defense for dog bites in Washington. Proof of provocation means that a dog owner isn’t liable for the plaintiff’s injury if the owner can demonstrate the plaintiff provoked the dog. An example would be if the person taunted the animal or if his or her behavior otherwise caused the animal to become agitated, such as threatening the owner.
  • Dog owners may also post signs to indicate a dangerous animal is present on their property. If this is the case, they will be free of liability as well.
  • Dog bite laws typically do not apply to law enforcement working dogs. These animals and their handlers have specialized training and law enforcement agencies are exempt in the event a working dog bites a suspect while performing its duties.

If you or a loved one suffers a dog bite in Washington, contact a Seattle personal injury lawyer who can help you understand your rights and recover compensation for your injuries.