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Washington Dog Bite Laws

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Dog attacks are often sudden, violent, and traumatic for victims and their families.

Both the State of Washington and various Clark County communities have laws meant to prevent dog bites, but thousands of vicious attacks happen every year anyway.

Dog owners are legally and morally responsible for the damage their animals may cause, but it often takes the hard work of an experienced Washington dog bite attorney to hold them to it.

In Washington, when a dog bites a person, the injured victim is often entitled to compensation for things like medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental health care. Because Washington applies a strict liability rule to dog bite cases, you generally do not have to prove negligence on the part of the owner, handler, or other person responsible.

It is important for dog bite victims to understand their rights and seek justice. If you or a loved one was injured in a dog attack, you probably have lots of questions about what to do next. The Scott Law Firm PLLC has put together some information about the state’s diverse dog laws. Note that the information provided is for general purposes and may not apply to your specific situation. To learn more about how the law applies to the attack you’ve suffered, contact our law firm for a free case evaluation with an experienced dog bite lawyer.

Washington dog bite law explained

Washington’s dog laws set various standards depending on victim, circumstance, dog’s history, and dog breed.

Our state determines the outcome of dog bite claims using the principle of “strict liability.” This means that an owner can be held liable for damage even if the dog has never bitten anyone before. Some states have a “one-bite” rule, meaning that a dog basically gets one “free bite” before legal action can be taken. This is not the case in Washington – dog owners are responsible for their canines’ actions from day one.

In Clark County, most communities have created additional legal standards that can apply to dog bite cases. Vancouver, for example, requires the owners of officially “dangerous” dogs to obtain special licenses.

Dog bite liability

Washington law specifically addresses liability when a dog injures or kills people, livestock, or domestic animals. If a dog attacks a person, the owner is liable for “severe” injuries. Examples of severe injuries include but are not limited to:

  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations requiring sutures
  • Disfigurement

If the dog that attacked you is registered as a “dangerous” animal, state law requires the owner to carry at least $250,000 in liability insurance or surety.

When dogs attack people

When a dog attacks a person, the location of the attack is very important.

A dog owner is liable for the injuries their animals cause on public and private property – as long as the victim was legally on the premises. This law generally does not apply to trespassers or the legal use of police dogs.

If there is a fence and/or posted warnings about dangerous dogs on a property, you cannot assume it is okay to enter regardless of an express or implied invitation – but those posted warnings have to meet the legal standards. Oftentimes, a skilled Washington dog bite attorney can break down whether signage and fencing met the “duty of care” standards to relieve the owner from responsibility.

Aggressive, potentially dangerous, and dangerous dogs

Legally, a dangerous dog is one that has:

  • Inflicted severe injury on a human out in public without provocation,
  • Killed a domestic animal without provocation while at a location that was not on the dog owner’s property, or
  • Acted aggressively again, for instance by biting, attacking or otherwise endangering the safety of others, after being previously found to be “potentially dangerous.”

A dog may be found to be “potentially dangerous” if, unprovoked, it:

  • Bites another person or domestic animal,
  • Chases or approaches a person in a public place, streets, or sidewalks in a menacing manner,
  • Shows an “apparent attitude of attack” while out in public, or
  • Is known to have a tendency to attack.

Dog dangerousness hearings

Once the county or municipality is notified about an attack and a request to have the dog declared dangerous, they must notify the dog’s owner in person or by certified mail. Before the authority makes a determination, the dog’s owner has the opportunity to provide arguments and evidence against their dog being officially recognized as “dangerous.”

Typically, dangerousness hearings are completed and a ruling is determined within 30 days of notice of the attack. In most parts of the state, if the dog is ruled to be dangerous, the owner has 20 days after receiving the final determination to file for an appeal. However, in Vancouver, an owner only has 5 “working days” to file.

During the appeal, the dangerous dog must be confined and controlled. The owner must pay all costs of confinement and control.

Liability defense

There are situations in which a dog can injure another person or animal and still not be considered dangerous. In general, dogs will not be considered dangerous if they injure someone who is:

  • Trespassing or otherwise not allowed on the premises,
  • Committing or attempting to commit a crime, or
  • Tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog.

In addition, an owner may not be liable for damage if their dog attacks a person who has previously tormented, abused or assaulted the animal.

Negligent dog owners will frequently try to get out of compensating injured victims by claiming they were trespassing or provoked the animal. The Scott Law Firm knows how to handle this type of defense and prove why you must get the justice you deserve.

Keeping dangerous dogs

If a dog is found to be dangerous, the owner must obtain a certificate of registration. Many municipalities require owners to purchase special dangerous dog licenses.

In general, a certificate or license will only be awarded if the owner can prove they can keep their dog and the community safe. This is often achieved by:

  • Providing the dog with a proper enclosure,
  • Posting appropriate warning of the danger, including a symbol that communicates this danger to children,
  • Purchasing of a surety bond or other liability insurance (like homeowners insurance) of at least $250,000. Some municipalities have amended state law and require a minimum of $50,000 coverage.
  • Some communities, including Vancouver and Battle Ground, also require the animal be implanted with a microchip.

It is unlawful to have a dangerous dog outside of its enclosure without a muzzle, restraint by a substantial chain or leash, and a responsible person to keep them under control. The muzzle must be made in a manner that does not injure the dog or interfere with its vision or ability to breathe. It must, however, prevent the animal from biting others.

Help for Washington dog bite victims

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a dog attack, you deserve to be compensated for your injuries, pain, and loss. Negligent pet owners will frequently go to great lengths to get out of paying for a victim’s medical bills and keep their animal out of trouble. They are often motivated to lie about what happened to avoid consequences for both themselves and their dogs.

This is why it is critical for dog bite victims to have an experienced personal injury lawyer fighting for them. While you heal, The Scott Law Firm will investigate the incident and collect the evidence you need to make the case for maximum compensation.

Using time-tested strategies, we will hammer away at the reckless owner and their insurance company until they make you a substantial settlement offer. If they refuse to be reasonable, we will prepare to take them to court.

Do not delay. Time is of the essence in dog bite cases. Contact The Scott Law Firm right now to schedule your free dog bite case evaluation.

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