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.
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.
Dog Bite FAQ
Does Seattle have a specific dog bite law?
Yes. Washington state statute RCW 16.08 controls owner liability for dangerous dogs.
Under the state statute, owners must generally pay damages to a person bitten by a dog while on public property or lawfully on private property. It does not matter whether the dog displayed aggressive behaviors in the past. The law excludes the lawful use of police dogs to apprehend suspects.
In cases where RCW 16.08 does not directly apply, persons injured by dogs might recover damages under Washington negligence and premises liability laws. Victims might also claim restitution for direct medical bills and lost wages during a criminal proceeding related to the dog attack.
When is a dog owner liable if a dog bit me in Seattle?
Liability for dog bites in Seattle depends in part on where the dog attacked. Claimants bitten on public property, i.e., in a dog park or on a sidewalk, may typically recover damages directly under RCW 16.08. It does not matter if the dog was on a leash or the owner was extra careful – strict liability for public dog bites applies to all owners in the state.
Personal injury claimants bitten while lawfully on the dog owner’s property, including while delivering a package, might recover damages as well.
Adult claimants bitten while trespassing on private property may not usually claim damages for dog bites. Dogs may lawfully protect property from trespassers. In addition, under RCW 16.08.060, people cannot provoke a dog attack and expect compensation.
Intentional conduct, such as instructing a dog to attack, might give rise to another tort called battery. Speak with a qualified Seattle dog bite lawyer at Boohoff Law to discuss how best to pursue compensation in your claim.
Do different liability rules apply to children bitten by dogs?
Certain exceptions apply to very young children bitten by dogs. Parents and caregivers could also bear responsibility for negligently supervising or failing to protect a child against a dangerous dog.
A legal doctrine called attractive nuisance may also apply to a child’s dog bite injury in Seattle. This doctrine sometimes applies to children drawn to a person’s property by something likely to attract a child. Children bitten while running to the attraction when no basic safety features were in place, i.e., a fence, might recover damages. In such cases, young children entering private property to pet dogs contained with an invisible fence may claim damages under a theory of premises liability. Such complicated but potentially viable claims often require the aid of a Seattle dog bite lawyer with experience litigating dog bite, premises liability, and negligence claims.
Moreover, if the owner knows the dog is dangerous, the owner has a legal responsibility under RCW 16.08.070(4) to keep the dog locked indoors or in an outdoor pen or structure that can prevent children from entering. Failure to do so could constitute further evidence of negligence.
Does it matter if a dog owner has a “beware of dog” sign?
Owners of dangerous dogs must display clearly visible signs that explicitly and effectively warn adults and children alike that a dangerous dog resides on the property. That may not completely protect owners from civil lawsuits resulting from the actions of their dogs, however.
Are Seattle dog owners supposed to keep their dogs on a leash?
Local ordinances typically contain leash laws, and Seattle is no exception. Under 9.25.084 of the Seattle Municipal Code and 11.08 of the King County Ordinances, owners must leash their dogs in most public areas. Some public areas permit off-leash dogs, while owners may generally keep dogs off-leash on their own properties. Liability for public dog bites attaches regardless of whether the dog was on a leash. However, additional liability may apply if the owner was extremely careless in allowing a dangerous dog to roam without taking proper precautions.
Is Washington a “one free bite” state?
Not in civil cases. Strict liability for dog bites applies to personal injury claims in Washington. Dog owners cannot avoid responsibility for a bite if they had no reason to know the dog was vicious.
Will I put a dog in danger of being put down if I report a dog bite in Seattle?
Not necessarily. Washington’s dangerous dog laws prohibit keeping a dangerous dog in the state unless the owner:
- Registers the dangerous dog with the state
- Confines the dangerous dog properly
- Posts adequate warning signs of a dangerous dog on the property
- Takes out a $250,000 bond against injuries the dangerous dog might inflict
- Takes out a $250,000 insurance policy against injuries the dangerous dog might inflict
If the owner complies with the above, plus any local requirements, he or she may still keep the dog.
We care about recovering damage for the injured and protecting loved one’s pets at Boohoff Law. You may confidentially speak with our Seattle dog bite team about recovering damages for your injuries while still protecting a dog from a dangerous designation.
Do I have to call the police if a dog bit me?
You should usually file a police report after a Seattle dog bite. Failure to do so may reduce your chances of recovering compensation for your injuries. You may also take advantage of a free dog bite consultation with the legal team at Boohoff Law. Generally, you must call the police if the victim was a child or the dog caused severe injuries. If a dog only chased you aggressively or the bite didn’t break the skin, consider calling local animal control about the incident.
What are some common medical complications from dog bites?
You should seek medical help after a dog bite. Doctors may recommend administering certain vaccines or antibiotics. Large dogs’ teeth often penetrate deep into flesh, damaging essential nerves and ligaments. Deep bites may also result in bacterial infections requiring a continuous course of treatment. If you fail to seek proper medical care and develop an infection, it may reduce a dog owner’s overall liability for your injuries.
Some common conditions suffered by dog bite victims in Seattle include:
- Bacterial infections
- Nerve and ligament damage
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Courts may require owners to produce their dog’s vaccination and dental hygiene records to help doctors treat your injuries. Speak with our qualified Seattle dog bite lawyers today if you developed a severe infection, tetanus, or rabies from a bite. These conditions may expose dog owners to additional liability for failing to follow Seattle veterinary laws and guidelines.
Do I need a tetanus or rabies shot after a dog bite?
Any dog bite that breaks the skin may require a tetanus booster or multiple doses of the rabies vaccine. Not all owners keep their pets up to date on shots, and diseases may transfer through a dog bite. It’s wise to visit the emergency room for bleeding dog bites to get the wound cleaned properly. Dog’s mouths commonly contain bacteria that might result in painful infections. Liable owners generally have to compensate claimants for shots and vaccines.
Is anyone else liable for a dog bite injury?
Possibly. Strict liability applies to dog owners, but you may have negligence claims against multiple parties for a dog bite.
Individuals or entities potentially liable for dog bite damages include:
- The person responsible for the dog at the time of the bite, i.e., a dog walker
- A dog walking or dog daycare company
- Washington state or any local agency caring for a dog
- A non-profit or rescue organization responsible for the dog
- The owner of the property where the bite occurred
- The party responsible for caring for a young child
Liability depends on the facts of each case. Vicariously liability may apply to a dog walking company whose employee lets the dog off its leash. Likewise, property owners might have a duty to protect guests and prevent dog bite injuries. Speak with an attorney today about additional negligence, vicarious liability, and premises liability claims related to Seattle dog bite injuries.
Am I still entitled to damages for a Seattle dog bite if I reached over to pet the dog?
Claimants who negligently contribute to a dog bite injury may recover damages depending on the facts. Merely walking by or reaching out to pet a seemingly friendly dog generally doesn’t qualify as negligence. Reaching into a dog’s crate or petting a dog displaying aggressive behaviors may reduce but not eliminate your right to financial compensation.
What kind of compensation can I recover after a dog bit me in Seattle?
Washington State considers dog bites personal injuries. Successfully claimants may recover for all direct and indirect losses stemming from the dog bite, including damage related to infections and diseases.
A settlement or verdict may include compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Plastic surgery and scar treatment
- Medications, including vaccines and antibiotics
- Lost past and future income
- Mental suffering and anguish
- Lost enjoyment of daily life
- Necessary household help
- Medical transportation
Damages may include past suffering and future anticipated medical needs and losses. Claimants enduring continuous nerve pain or requiring multiple reconstructive surgeries should consider working with experts to calculate the value of these future losses. Personal injury attorneys often front necessary expert witness costs for viable dog bite claims in Seattle.
Can I recover damages if a dog injured me but didn’t bite me?
The law considers dogs extensions of their owners. As such, you may still recover damages for falling injuries caused by dogs. If a large dog knocks you down—for example, while biking—scratches you, or you fall while avoiding an aggressive dog, you may have a claim for damages. Strict liability applies to dog bites, but general negligence and premises liability laws may apply to other injuries dogs cause. However, you must sustain physical harm to claim damages. Unintentional emotional injuries, such as fear of being bitten, usually do not entitle claimants to compensation.
Who typically pays for dog bite damages in Seattle?
Liable property insurers typically compensate claimants for viable dog bite claims. However, private property insurers might disclaim liability because an owner failed to inform them that a dog resided on the property. A few insurers prohibit specific dog breeds on the insured property. Claimants denied insurance coverage or injured in public areas might seek damages directly from the dog owner or other negligent party.
Seattle personal injury claimants have three years from the date of the dog bite to file a personal injury lawsuit. Do not accept an insurance settlement offer without speaking with a qualified Seattle dog bite attorney at Boohoff Law about your injuries. Even taking a small medical settlement now may waive your right to seek damages for future infections, pain, and nerve damage caused by a dog bite.
Call Boohoff Law Seattle Dog Bite Injury Lawyers Now
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. 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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