In 2011, Seattle Magazine famously reported that Seattle has a dog obsession. At the time, there were more dogs in Seattle than children. Whether or not that’s still the case, there’s no debating that Seattle is still one of the most dog-friendly cities in the nation.
Unfortunately, when dogs and people live in close quarters, dogs will sometimes attack humans and cause serious injuries. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Washington ranked 21st in the nation in dog bite-related insurance claims in 2018, with 317 insurance claims relating to dog bites. Some of the most tragic and upsetting cases of injuries, and even death, from dog bites, involve small children who do not know the warning signs of a dog that feels threatened.
If you or a loved one suffered a severe injury in a dog attack, you may have the right to take legal action for damages under Washington law. To learn more, contact the experienced Seattle dog bite liability lawyers at Boohoff Law today.
Why Boohoff Law Can Make a Difference in Your Dog Bite Case
Attorney Tatiana Boohoff has spent more than a decade advocating for the rights of people injured in a variety of accidents and incidents, including dog bites and other animal attacks. In relocating the law practice to Seattle, Attorney Boohoff brings with her a well-deserved reputation as a skillful and determined attorney for anyone injured by the carelessness and recklessness of others. She and her team take special pride in their commitment to client service and in making themselves available for their clients 24/7.
Attorney Boohoff is a graduate of Boston University School of Law, a top-ranked program that graduates some of the country’s most talented lawyers. Under her leadership, Boohoff Law focuses its efforts exclusively on helping clients in personal injury matters obtain the compensation they deserve.
About Dog Bite Law
With over 78 million dogs living in households in the United States, dog bites are so common that there is an entire area of law dedicated to the topic. Many states, including Washington, have their own statutes addressing dog bites. In Washington, that law says:
“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.”
This is what is known as a strict liability statute. State law recognizes just two exceptions to the owner’s liability when her dog bites someone:
Illegal presence on private property. The owner is liable for a bite that happened in public or on private property where the victim is legally present. The owner would not generally have liability to someone trespassing on her property who gets bitten by her dog. The law deems a person to be on private property legally only when the person is there “with the express or implied consent of the owner.”
Provocation. An owner is not liable for injuries to a person who provoked a dog to attack. Although the statute does not specifically define what it means to provoke a dog, generally speaking it means any action taken to abuse, torture, or taunt an animal into acting aggressively. Small children (usually those younger than six) cannot be found to have provoked a dog into attacking.
Although Washington’s dog bite statute holds an owner of a dog liable for biting someone “regardless of the former viciousness of such dog,” that doesn’t mean owners of dogs known to attack are treated the same as owners of dogs that have never attacked before. Owners of dogs deemed dangerous (because they have attacked unprovoked in the past) have the extra responsibility to keep the public safe from them, including:
Registration. All dangerous dogs must be registered with local government authorities. To obtain a certificate of registration of a dangerous dog from a city or town, an owner generally must show the dog is kept in an adequate enclosure with warning signs posted (including signs children would understand) or to show that the owner has at least $250,000 of coverage for liability to anyone injured by the dog;
Restraint. Owners must keep dangerous dogs muzzled and on a substantial chain or leash; and
Criminal liability. Owners who fail to keep the public safe from dangerous dogs in this manner face prosecution.
Seattle Municipal Code Dog Provisions
The laws above are the minimum standards that apply in Washington statewide. Seattle has adopted its own additional animal control ordinances that include provisions dealing with dogs and dog bites. Those laws include:
Licensing. All pet dogs older than eight weeks living in Seattle must have licenses. Special licenses, with higher standards for issuance, are required for any dog designated as a guard dog or attack dog under the ordinance.
Rabies vaccination. All pet dogs living in Seattle must be vaccinated against rabies.
Dangerous dogs prohibited. In Seattle, it is illegal to possess a dangerous dog—whether or not the dog has been officially designated as such—within the city limits.
Leashes. All dogs on public property must be kept on leash, except in specially designated areas like dog parks.
Owners who fail to follow these provisions could face civil fines or criminal penalties under the Seattle municipal code.
About Dog Bites
Why do dogs bite? The American Veterinary Medical Association explains a dog may bite a human for a variety of reasons, such as:
- In self-defense or in defense of its territory;
- If frightened or startled;
- To protect something valuable, such as a puppy, food, or a toy;
- Because it feels sick or in pain;
- During over-excited play.
Preventing Dog Bites
To avoid dog bites, the AVMA advises keeping these potential reasons in mind and educating others about them. As a general matter, you should avoid startling or seeming aggressive to a dog. Avoid risky situations, such as dogs not accompanied by their owners, or a dog acting protective of an object or puppies. Learn the dog body language warning signs indicating a dog feels threatened or scared. Above all, make sure young children do not approach dogs unaccompanied by an adult until that dog knows the child and the child knows how to read the dog’s body language.
Common Dog Bite Injuries
A dog that bites can inflict serious injuries, particularly on young children. Common dog bite injuries include:
- Lacerations and puncture wounds that cause scarring. These wounds are particularly devastating when a dog bites a child’s face.
- Infection from untreated bites that break the skin;
- Uncontrolled bleeding when a dog’s bite ruptures a blood vessel;
- Damage to soft tissue, including muscles, ligaments, and tendons; and
- Rabies or other communicable diseases carried by unvaccinated dogs.
Some of the injuries above can be so severe that the dog bite victim may die. According to the dog bite prevention advocacy group DogsBite.org, from 2005 to 2017, 433 Americans died from dog bite injuries. About 75 percent of those deaths resulted from attacks by pit bulls (65 percent) or rottweilers (10 percent). A wide variety of other dog breeds accounted for the remainder.
Most dog bite victims do not die, but their injuries may still cause lasting damage. Scarring, disfigurement, and physical disability caused by a dog bite can require years of medical treatment. Young children, especially, may also require long-term mental health support for injuries sustained in an unprovoked dog attack. An experienced Seattle dog bite attorney focuses on the extent and nature of future medical care her client will need so that she can seek the appropriate amount of damages for a dog bite injury.
Common Damages for Dog Bite Injuries
As we know, under Washington law the owner of a dog that bites will have strict legal liability to the person bitten for paying compensatory damages. What do those damages cover? Generally speaking, they fall into two broad categories: economic (or special) damages, and non-economic (or general) damages.
Economic damages are compensation for specific, easily-calculated costs the dog bite victim has incurred as a result of the bite. They typically will include:
- Un-reimbursed medical bills;
- Chronic or long-term care costs;
- Mental health counseling;
- Physical therapy;
- Lost wages from time off from work while recovering or helping a loved one recover; and
- Lost income or employment opportunity due to injuries and disabilities.
In Washington, the dog owner liable to the bite victim may have the right to pay economic damages over time, instead of as a lump-sum.
Non-economic damages are compensation for subjective injuries that are more difficult to quantify. In dog bite cases, they may include:
- Pain and suffering;
- The long-term effects of living with disfiguring scars;
- Damage to personal relationships (a.k.a. loss of consortium/companionship/parent-child relationship); and
- Negative impacts on quality of life.
Whereas in some states non-economic damages can be astronomically high, in Washington State there is a hard cap non-economic damages. A dog bite victim can recover a maximum of 43 percent of the average annual wage in Washington (which is set by law) multiplied by his or her life expectancy at the time of dog attack (no less than 15 years).
Start Working With Our Seattle Dog Bite Attorneys Today
Dog bites (and other animal attacks) inflict severe physical and emotional trauma on their victims, particularly when those victims are young children. Recovering from a dog bite injury can entail significant medical complications, particularly if the dog caused disfiguring injuries that require multiple cosmetic surgeries to repair. As we noted above, even after wounds heal, the emotional scars of a dog attack can last a lifetime.
At Boohoff Law, we understand how scary and disruptive a dog bite injury can be for the victim, the victim’s family, and even for the dog owner (who almost never intends for the dog to bite). In the aftermath of a dog bite, life can feel overwhelming and cruel. Victims and their families rarely think of hiring an attorney as a top priority. We understand that, but we also encourage Seattle dog bite victims to seek legal help as soon as possible. The faster an experienced Seattle dog bite attorney begins helping, the better your chances of recovering appropriate compensation and, just as importantly, of keeping the community safe from further attacks by the dog in question.
In Washington, the general statute of limitations on personal injury claims, including dog bite injuries, is three years. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to wait two-and-a-half-years to seek legal help. An experienced Seattle dog bite injury lawyer will want to investigate a client’s case as soon as practicable after the bite occurs. That’s because it can be critical for Seattle animal control authorities to be involved with investigating the dog’s license, vaccination, and history of attacks. The more time that passes, the less likely the authorities, and your lawyer, will be able to find relevant information that could help your cause.
Another reason not to wait to seek legal help for a Seattle dog bite is that the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance company won’t wait to investigate the claim. Unlike your lawyer, however, insurance adjusters are not on your side, no matter how sympathetic they might act. Insurance companies want to minimize their financial exposure, and may try to do so by looking for ways to claim the dog was provoked. They may also offer inadequate settlements before you have a handle on your legal rights. An experienced Seattle dog bite injury lawyer can help protect you from these tactics.
Call Boohoff Law Seattle Dog Bite Injury Lawyers Now
The team at Boohoff Law knows how scary and disruptive it can be for you or a family member to suffer a dog bite injury. We’re here to help you enforce your rights to compensation under Washington law. To learn more, contact us today or dial (877) 999-9999 to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
“I’m very satisfied with all services this firm provided. Especially , I would like to thank Tatiana Boohoff, Linsey Pyles and Michelle Pieller for their professional and friendly attitude. Thank you again.”
– Michael N.
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