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Understanding Dog Bite Liability in WA: Statutory vs Common Law

Dog bites can result in serious injuries and painful losses that can affect the victim for years to come. As a result, many states have protections in place that provide victims with a way to file lawsuits and recover compensation following a dog bite.

Liability in dog bite cases can be based on one of two legal theories: the common law theory of negligence, or a strict liability statute. Generally, Washington follows a statutory rule for dog bite liability—owners are always liable for their animals’ actions, except in certain cases.

Washington’s Dog Bite Statute

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) section 16.08.040, dog owners are strictly liable for any dog bite injuries that their animals inflict. This liability applies regardless of whether the owner knew or should have known that the animal would bite. 

The victim must be in a public place or lawfully in or on a private place at the time of the attack, including the owner’s property. Owners could avoid liability if the victim was illegally trespassing at the time of the bite.

If you are bitten by a dog, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the owner in Washington civil court. Through your claim, you could recover compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses associated with the attack.

Common-Law in Washington Dog Bite Cases

Injuries that involve bites from a dog are subject to statutory law in Washington. Owners are always liable for any bites, except in very limited circumstances. If the attack involves an injury other than a bite, however, the common law theory of negligence will apply.

Negligence refers to a party’s breach of a certain duty of care that leads to someone else’s injuries. If a dog’s owner fails to use reasonable care to prevent an injury other than a dog bite, he or she would be responsible for the attack.

For example, say that you are jogging in your neighborhood while your neighbor allows his dog to run in the front yard. The dog is not leashed or contained inside of a fence, and the owner is inside of the house watching television. While you are jogging, the dog runs up to you and knocks you down, breaking your leg.

In this situation, the neighbor failed to exercise reasonable care to restrain the dog by allowing the animal to run outside unsupervised. He will likely be liable due to this act of negligence.

What to Do After a Sudden Dog Attack

The moments after a dog attack can be disorienting and overwhelming. In these situations, it is important to remain calm and seek help for your injuries. Take the following steps after the incident to protect yourself and your future case.

  • Get to a safe location away from the animal as soon as possible.
  • Perform basic first aid on any open wounds to avoid infection. Wash the bite with warm water and soap, apply antibiotic ointment, and wrap the wound in a clean bandage.
  • Seek professional medical attention immediately. Dog bites can easily lead to infection.
  • If you do not know already, identify the animal’s owner and collect his or her contact information.
  • Take as many photographs and videos of your injuries, the animal, and the area where the attack occurred.

After seeking medical care, contact a Washington dog bite lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can evaluate your case and help you seek the justice you deserve.