Written by attorney Christopher Michael Davis

Overview of Washington State's Dog Bite Laws - Part #1

The state of Washington does not maintain an accurate state-wide database of all dog bite attacks that occur. But in King County there are more than 1,000 dog bite incidences reported each year. According to the Seattle Animal Shelter, pit bulls account for a disproportionate number of reported bites in Seattle alone. While pit bulls account for just 4% of the total dog population in Seattle, they are involved in 22% of all reported dog attack incidents as of 2007. Historically, a person could only recover damages against a dog owner if he could prove that the owner had prior knowledge of the dog's viciousness or propensity to bite. This law was called the "One Bite Rule" because it meant that every dog owner had one "free bite" before civil liability could be imposed (i.e., damages could be collected against the dog owner). This turned out to be an unjust rule because there were no mandatory reporting requirements when a dog injured a person. Consequently, a dog bite victim had difficulty proving that the dog had previously injured someone else. If a dog owner denied having knowledge that his dog had previously injured another person, it was virtually impossible for the dog bite victim to prove otherwise and the claim would fail. Fortunately, the Washington state legislature recognized the difficulties dog bite victims faced by having to prove the dog owner's prior knowledge of the dog's viciousness. As a result, the legislature supplemented the "One Bite Rule" by enacting a specific statute that addressed the proof problems associated with that rule. Now, Washington State has its own "Dog Bite Statute," which removed the requirement of proving that the dog owner had prior knowledge of the dog's propensity to bite. That statute states as follows (See RCW 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. As written, the law effectively holds dog owners strictly liable for any injuries or bites their dogs inflict on others. This means the owner is liable for a dog bite injury even if the dog has never bitten another human being and even if the dog has never previously acted in an aggressive manner. However, there are certain facts that must be present before a dog owner can be held legally responsible under Washington's dog bite statute as discussed more fully below.

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