Seattle Dog Bites: The Basics

Seattle is a dog Mecca. There are pet-friendly restaurants. Pet-friendly hotels. Everyone and everything is pet-friendly these days. Yes, Seattle surely has "gone to the dogs." But what happens when a Seattleite gets bitten by one of these furry canine companions? That's where the law steps in.

A dog attack can be very serious -- even if it is from a small dog. Dog bites may result in serious injuries. If a dog attacks another person, the owner is legally responsible for that attack. Read on to learn more about the law surrounding Seattle Dog Bites.

First Steps

Maybe you were out having that first cup of Seattle's finest coffee in Capitol Hill when an unknown dog approached you. He's looks friendly enough, but lo and behold, Fido has some sharp teeth and he doesn't hesitate to sink them into your skin. What's the first thing you should do?

Seek medical attention. Tend to any bites, cuts, or scrapes immediately. Then, call the Seattle Animal Control at (206) 386-7387 (PETS) or 911. An animal control officer will investigate the situation. A bite investigation doesn't automatically mean the dog is impounded - it may only mean that vaccination and licenses are verified. This helps protect public health and safety.

What Information Should I Have When Reporting a Dog Bite ?

When calling to report an incident, have as much information as possible, including a description of the animal and owner, the address of owner, and/or the license plate of the owner's vehicle.

Does Washington Have a Dog Bite Law?

Yes, the state law is in the Revised Code of Washington. Check out Section 16.08.040.

"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."

Basically, if you own a dog, you are strictly liable for any injuries your canine causes to another person.

What if the Owner Didn't Know the Dog Was Dangerous?

It doesn't matter. The owner doesn't have to be aware of any dangerous tendencies on their dog's part in order to be held strictly liable for your injuries under the statute.

Exceptions to the Dog Bite Statute

If you are trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking the dog, you'll very likely be out of luck and probably won't be able to hold the owner "strictly liable."

Can I Sue the Landlord, Too?

In Washington, a landlord is protected from dog bite liability - landlords generally cannot be held responsible for their tenant's dangerous animals. The only case in which a landlord can be liable for a dog attack is if he or she is the owner, keeper, or harborer of the dog. More on that below.

What About the "One Bite" Rule?

You may have heard about this rule. In some states, if a dog has never bitten anyone before, the owner can't be held liable for their dog's "first bite." Washington State has a "one bite rule" that basically says if a dog has a history of viciousness or violence, then the owner or keeper of the animal is liable for that animal's actions.

Why is this important? Mostly because of the language of the law. The strict liability statute we mentioned above only applies to dog owners. Under the "one bite" rule, someone who is a keeper or harborer of a dog can also be held liable if he or she has knowledge the dog was dangerous. Even if the harborer or keeper didn't know the dog was dangerous, if you can prove the owner or harborer was negligent in preventing the attack, he or she can be held liable for your injuries.

How Does a Person "Harbor" or "Keep" a Dog?

Strange language, right? It's a bit tricky to define and many times it will depend on the individual circumstances of the case. But, generally someone "harbors or keeps" a dog when they live with it and control its actions such as walking, feeding, and caring for the animal.

Does Seattle Have Local Dog Ordinances?

Yes, it does. Fortunately, the city lists its local ordinances online.

Why is this important? Because if a dog bites you in Seattle, you can look at the code and see if the owner was in violation of any of the ordinances, such as a lease law. If he or she was in violation, it could make it easier to prove your case because the owner or harborer may be "negligent per se."

Statute of Limitations

As a dog bite victim you have three years from the date of the dog bite to file a lawsuit in a Seattle courthouse. If you don't, you may forfeit the right to pursue your lawsuit.

What Compensation Can a Victim Recover?

In a lawsuit, compensation for your injuries is known as damages. If a dog bites you, you can sue for such damages proximately caused by the bite, such as past and future medical bill and expenses, loss of past or future wages and income, as well as pain, suffering, and disfigurement/scarring, when appropriate.

Homeowners or Renters Insurance Policy

Homeowners and renters insurance policies will usually cover animal bite claims brought by nonresidents of the home. Liability coverage varies. If the claim exceeds policy limits, the dog owner may be personally liable for the balance.

A Final Word on Seattle Dog Bites

If you or someone you know has suffered a serious injury because of a dog bite or attack, you may wish to consider speaking to a Seattle animal bite lawyer and learn more about your options. Determining your legal rights can be complicated, and it may be unclear who to bring a claim against, what sort of damages you may be entitled to, and even where to start.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.