Written by attorney Christopher Michael Davis

Overview of Washington State's Dog Bite Laws - Part #3

The Location of the Incident is Important Washington's dog bite law states that liability can only be imposed against the dog owner if the victim "is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner..." Essentially, the dog bite injury must occur either while the victim is in a public place or while lawfully present on the dog owner's property. If the injury occurs on the property of the dog owner, the law requires that the victim must have been present on this property with the owner's consent or permission. The term "consent" can also be defined quite broadly. For example, the law recognizes that a person may be on a person's property with the owner's express consent or with the owner's implied consent. The term "express consent" usually occurs when the dog owner specifically invites you onto his property. For example, if you invite me to your house for dinner and while I am there your dog bites me, then I may pursue a claim against you under the dog bite statute. By inviting me into your home, you have expressly consented to my presence on your private property. The term "implied consent" usually occurs when the dog owner has allowed you onto his property without ever expressly inviting you. A property owner is said to impliedly consent to someone entering onto their land if that person is present in the performance of a duty imposed by law. For instance, the person who delivers the mail or makes a parcel delivery is usually one who is said to have been impliedly invited upon the owner's private property to complete the delivery. Similarly, the boy who ventures onto a homeowner's property to deliver the newspaper is entering the property with the implied consent of the owner. Whether implied consent exists will obviously depend on the facts and circumstances of why the victim was present on the dog owner's property. Provocation of the Dog is a Complete Defense Even if a person is injured by a dog while in a public place or while lawfully on private property, the dog owner may not be liable if the dog was provoked. Washington law states that the provocation of the animal is a complete defense to a claim against the dog owner. Whether the dog is provoked prior to the attack will depend on the facts and circumstances involved. Usually, if the dog is intentionally hit, teased, or taunted, and, as a result, bites the perpetrator, a claim for damages against the owner will likely not succeed. In that situation the dog owner will argue quite convincingly that the dog only inflicted injury after being subjected to conduct that most people would expect to cause a dog to act aggressively. The "provocation defense" appears to be a reasonable part of the law since it would be unfair to allow someone to profit from a dog bite injury which was only caused by that person's desire to intentional provoke the animal in the first place. As you can see, the "Dog Bite Statute" imposes certain conditions and restrictions on when a victim may recover compensation against the dog owner. Not every dog bite case will meet the requirements of the statute. However, in those cases the victim may still successfully pursue a claim under Washington common law.

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