Dog bite laws in Washington State favor the bite victims, making the owner, keeper or harborer of the dog liable for almost any damages that the animal causes. Unlike some states, Washington does not establish liability for a landlord, unless that person is also the harborer or keeper of the dog.
What the Law Says
Title 16.08.040 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) establishes the liability of the owner of any dog who bites anyone in a public place or a private place where the bitten person has a right to be. It does not matter whether or not the dog had ever bitten anyone before. It does not matter whether or not the owner had any reason to think the dog might be vicious.
The owner is responsible for the actions of the dog. The only exceptions are “the lawful application” of police dogs, stated in RCW 16.08.040, and where positive proof is presented that the person attacked actually provoked the dog, as established in RCW 16.08.060.
What This Means for Dog Bite Victims
Someone bitten by a dog can likely recover damages from that dog’s owner as long as:
- The attack happened on public property, for instance on a sidewalk or in a park, or the person bitten had permission to be on the private property where the bite occurred
- The owner cannot prove that the bitten person provoked the dog
- The bite was not from a police dog performing its lawful duty
As soon as possible after a bite incident, the person bitten or their parent should find out who owns the dog, to what breed the animal belongs and how old it is. Just as in an auto accident, the victim should get contact information from all witnesses as well as from the person who was responsible for the dog. The victim should seek emergency medical treatment, and then consult an attorney familiar with dog bite issues.