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What Are Your Rights When a Dog Bites You?

By Glenn Kadish on

For most of us, dog’s aren’t just “man’s best friend” but members of our family. Unfortunately, not all dogs are loyal companions, and injuries can occur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite 4.75 million people in United States each year.

If a dog bites you or a loved one, you may be able to receive compensation for medical fees, wage loss, and pain and suffering. Consulting a dog bite attorney can help you learn about your rights and legal options.

Liability in Dog Bite Claims
Every state has its own laws about dog bites. In Washington, dog owners are “strictly liable,” which means that the law favors the person who was bitten. Dog owners are responsible:

  • When a person is bitten or injured in a public place or when they are lawfully in a private one
  • When the person bitten did not provoke the dog
  • Whether or not the dog has a history of being vicious
  • Whether or not the owner has prior knowledge of the dog’s history of being vicious

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the dog had ever bitten someone before; if it bites a person, without provocation and the person bitten is allowed to be where the bite occurred, the owner is responsible.

Washington also follows a “one bite” rule: if a dog has a history of biting, people that “keep” or “harbor” a dog, not just the owners, can be held liable. Strict liability, however, only applies to dog owners. The law is different for landlords. Unless the dog is owned by the landlord, the landlord is not responsible for a dog’s actions.

In most cases in Washington, a dog bite claim must be filed within three years of the injury to be heard in court. That said, don’t wait until the last minute. Contact a dog bite lawyer as soon as possible to learn about your rights and how to recover the appropriate damages.

Dog Injuries & Negligence Laws
If you are hurt by a dog, but not bitten, you may have a right to be compensated under negligence laws. For example, if a dog gets loose and knocks someone over, hurting them, the injured person must prove that their injury wouldn’t have happened if the owner had properly restrained or controlled the dog, such as by keeping gates or doors properly closed. However, this changes if the animal has a history of viciousness or of getting loose. Negligence may also apply when someone other than the owner is monitoring the dog when the injury occurs.

In Washington, damages for negligence laws are based on contributory fault; the injured person’s compensation can be reduced if he is responsible for the injuries.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims
A dog owner generally has one of two defenses in a dog bite claim: provocation and trespassing. In some situations, both may apply.

Provocation is the only statutory defense in these cases, meaning a dog owner is not responsible if he can prove that the injured person intentionally hurt, taunted, or aggravated the dog prior to the injury.

If the injury occurred while the injured person was not on public property or didn’t have consent to be on private property, the dog owner may argue the person was trespassing. If the injured person was trespassing, then the injured person may not be able to recover damages.

Does Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Homeowners or renters insurance usually cover these types of injuries, although coverage may vary. Dog owners may be responsible for claims that exceed their policy.

Bitten by a dog? Our personal injury lawyers offer over 65 years of combined legal experience with dog bites and related injuries. At Kadish Twersky, an Everett personal injury law firm, we’ll inform you of your rights and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

This website includes general information about legal issues to be used for educational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances or to create an attorney-client relationship.


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