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Dog Bites

If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog in Seattle, Kirkland, Olympia, Bellingham, or anywhere in Washington State, you can file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner. Dog bites can be very serious and lead to horrible, even life-threatening injuries for the person attacked by the dog. While dogs are known as man’s best friend, there are instances when dogs can become aggressive and attack guests of a home or business.

If this happens to you, you need to know your rights and options in pursuing a claim against the dog’s owner. In considering whether to pursue a claim, the thing that you must understand is that if the dog bite takes place in someone’s home, then your best bet to make a recovery is through the home owner’s insurance policy. Making a claim for a dog bite in someone’s home is no different than making a claim from a car accident with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You have to follow the procedures and make a proper claim in order to obtain the compensation you need to make you whole after your injuries.

Washington State Dog Bite Laws

There is a specific law that states owners of dogs in Washington State are strictly liable for their dog’s bad behavior. Strict liability means you do not have to proof that someone is fault. This is important because in virtually every other case you, as the plaintiff, have to overcome this initial hurdle in proving your case. This is not the case for dog bite cases. The saying that every dog gets a free bite is not true in Washington State.

This is due to the Washington State Dog Bite statute, RCW 16.08.040, which states:

“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.”

Children are attacked by dogs the most frequently, with senior citizens coming in second. The victim may also have serious emotional stress or trauma associated with being bitten and have anxiety about being around dogs and pets in general.

Last year, there were 313 claims in Washington State to insurance companies for dog bites. It is very important to understand the role home owner’s insurance plays in dog bites. If someone owns a home, they likely have a homeowner’s insurance policy. While not every insurance policy has coverage for dog bites, the majority do, so if someone suffers a dog bite, a claim needs to be made to the insurance company. If the home where the dog bite occurs is not owned but rented, there may be a renter’s insurance policy to pursue. If the dog bite occurs at a business—such as an office or restaurant—then there is likely still going to be insurance through the business.

Recent case: The Jackman Law Firm represented a minor boy who was at a neighbor’s house when he was attacked by the neighbor’s pit bull. The dog left a large scar on the boy’s face that required surgery. The man who lived at the home was renting the home and had a $100,000 insurance policy. The boy received the full $1000,000 for his injuries.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that 4.5 million are bitten by dogs every year in America. About 20% of those bitten have to go to the hospital to treat their injuries because they are so serious. Statistics show that dogs who have been spayed or neutered are less likely to bite people, so be aware that leash laws in a given community or city, so dog bites in Bellevue and Seattle may be less common than in areas such as Tacoma. Dogs who are leashed and able to socialize with others are less likely to bite people.

The dog breed most responsible for fatalities are pit bulls, Labradors, American bulldogs, Belgian malinois, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, and Rottweiler. Statistics show that 42% of dog bite fatalities occur when the dog is either visiting or living temporarily with the owner, so in other words, it is most unusual for a dog bite to turn deadly to the owner when the dog has been living with the owner for a long period of time.

Depending on how serious the dog attack is, the dog’s owner may also face criminal charges. If there are criminal charges brought against the home owner, then it is probably a very serious dog bite that has resulted in significant injuries to the victim, such as scarring and gashes. A criminal charge is separate than a civil lawsuit or claim against the homeowner’s insurance company because in a criminal case the homeowner could face jail time or have to pay a fine, whereas in a civil case that results in a lawsuit or a claim against a homeowner’s insurance policy, the owner’s insurance company will have to pay the victim a settlement.

If someone is bitten by a dog on a property that is rented, can the homeowner be held liable? The answer is yes, though it does depend. The case of Oliver v. Cook, 194 Wa.App.532 (2016) held that the homeowner could be held liable, and thus the homeowner’s insurance policy had to cover the victim’s damages, since the victim could show that the owner knew the dog who bit the victim had a history of biting people.

Exotics Pets: It is illegal to keep an exotic pet in Seattle, Bellevue, or Washington State, and yet some people do. Oftentimes people breed their dog with a wolf or simply attempt to domesticate and keep a wolf as a pet. Other people have kept big cats, such as tigers and lions, as pets, and this is also illegal in Washington. A person bitten or attacked by a big cat or exotic pet, or any kind of exotic animal that is kept on a homeowner’s property or place of business, is also held to strict liability as well and would be negligent in a civil court.

Common Dog Bite Injuries

Oftentimes people who are attacked by a dog are left with the following injuries:

  • Scars
  • Nerve injuries
  • Nerve damage
  • Death

These injuries require medical care that can require plastic surgery and other medical care that may require additional money to be set aside in settlement. If the injuries to a child are serious enough to warrant a lawsuit or a settlement is reached with the homeowner’s insurance company, then the child will be appointed a Guardian Ad Litem or a GAL. This person is court-appointed for a child, to make sure the money from a settlement is safely set aside, until the child reaches 18 and can have access to the funds.

How The Jackman Law Firm Can Help

If you, a loved one, or a child have been bitten by a dog and have suffered an injury, you have the right to pursue a claim. After a dog bite, you are likely facing medical bills, possibly wages lost from work, out of pocket expenses, and other money losses and emotional stress. In addition, it is also likely you are dealing with an insurance company. The Jackman Law Firm can take all of this off your plate. We can get you:

  • Lost wages
  • Future wages
  • Make sure medical bills are paid
  • Money for out of pocket expenses
  • Money for pain and suffering

After a dog bite, the victim must prove that the homeowner or business owner had a duty, this duty was breached, there was an injury, and the injury was directly related to the breach of the owner. If you are bitten by a dog, you simply have to prove that the owner had a duty to keep the dog from biting people. Feel free to call The Jackman Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your case if you have been bitten by a dog.

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