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The basics of Washington dog bite law

You – or worse yet, your child – have been bitten by a dog. In the midst of the pain, you also have to deal with myriad medical treatments, worry about having contracted a disease like rabies, the mounting expenses, the fear about a future attack, the scarring and operations. You are hurting, anxious and concerned about paying the medical bills that are quickly piling up. What do you do?

Relevant law

Thankfully, if you were bit in Washington, you will find an environment where laws are written to protect victims’ rights. The state’s dog bite law is codified in the Revised Code of Washington, Section 16.08.040.

That law sets forth what is known as “strict liability” for dog owners. This means that, if there is a bite, the owner of the animal is responsible except in very narrow, exceptional circumstances. You, as the victim, don’t have to prove that the dog is vicious, has bitten anyone in the past or is a dangerous breed. This is different from many other jurisdictions, which put the onus on the victim to prove the dog’s viciousness. You also don’t need to show that the dog was off a leash or outside of a fence, nor that the dog has shown violent propensities in the past. Provided you were not trespassing on the dog owner’s property, in the midst of a criminal act or openly provoking the dog, you will likely be eligible to recover monetary damages from the dog’s owner.

Seeking recovery for dog bite expenses

Unfortunately, just because the law dictates that a dog’s owner is legally responsible for bites caused by his or her animal doesn’t mean that it is easy to collect compensation for your medical expenses. In some cases, a dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy will provide coverage for dog bite liability. Even so, insurance companies are known to “lowball” settlement offers to pay the smallest amount possible in order to close a claim. Having an experienced Washington personal injury attorney familiar with the state’s dog bite laws and precedent-setting cases negotiate on your behalf could result in a substantially higher settlement than you could secure on your own.

Should a homeowner – or his insurance company – deny liability for your dog bite-related expenses, it may be necessary to take your case to trial. In that case, having a skilled attorney is crucial. Most personal injury attorneys provide a free initial consultation to discuss your case and most work on contingency, meaning that you won’t be responsible for legal fees unless you recover compensation. Also, an attorney will know the best way to prove expenses directly and indirectly associated with an animal attack, including:

  • Initial emergency treatment
  • Hospitalizations
  • Any necessary vaccinations to prevent transmission of animal-borne diseases
  • Treatment of infection resulting from the bite
  • Lost wages
  • Out-of-network costs to see specialists, particularly cosmetic surgeons
  • Cosmetic surgeries to repair the damage and minimize or revise scarring