Skip to main content

Police Dog Bites: Understanding Liability in K-9 Attacks

Posted by attorney Gregory Colburn

xperts believe that injuries from dog bites – including police dog bites – seriously injure more than 350,000 people in the United States each year, in addition to the approximately 35 annual fatal attacks. And with data showing that these devastating attacks amount to approximately $1 billion in costs each year, someone who is injured from a police dog bite could be faced with a difficult road. So who is liable if an innocent person is the victim of a police dog attack?

A Fine Line Regarding Police Dog Bites

First, it should be said that many police dogs are dutiful companions who effectively assist officers in law enforcement activities. Some have served in police departments for years without incident and are responsible for assisting in hundreds of criminal arrests.

Police dog bites, however, are similar to every other form of accidental injury in the sense that just one moment of negligence can lead to a devastating situation. It not only takes diligent training to safely monitor a K-9 police unit, but just seconds of distraction can also result in a free-roaming animal that is trained to attack.

Because these dogs are conditioned to attack sometimes dangerous criminals, the law does protect police from liability to some extent, but usually only during the course of an arrest. For example, if someone received a dog bite while evading arrest, the injuries occurred during the course of an arrest and the dog did what it was supposed to do.

However, a person’s civil rights are completely protection in instances of police dog bites. For example, if a police dog escaped captivity and was roaming through the streets and a person was bitten, the police department would be responsible for not preventing the attack from occurring in the first place.

Widespread Risk of Police Dog Bites

Needless to say, police dog bites can be complex and the details surrounding a potential dog bite claim can be confusing. In the event of police dog bites, it is in a victim’s best interest to consult with an experienced dog bite attorney.

But many people assume, understandably, that regular citizens are the only potential victims of such attacks. This theory has been officially debunked in Washington State, as a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy recently sued the Lynnwood Police Department (LPD) over the police dog bites he received while on-duty.

According to the Everett Herald, Deputy Marcus Dill filed a lawsuit in April of this year against LPD claiming that he received serious dog bites to his leg after being bitten by a Lynnwood police dog. Dill alleged that the dog’s handler, Sgt. Jason Valentine of the LPD, lost control of the K-9, who bit Dill on the leg and would not let go.

In this instance, the LPD was being held liable for Sgt. Valentine’s momentary lapse in attention to his responsibilities, which resulted in Deputy Dill’s serious police dog bites and subsequent injuries. Luckily, Dill hired an experienced dog bite attorney and filed a claim seeking approximately $300,000 in damages.

Author of this guide:

Was this guide helpful?

Avvo personal injury email series

Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about personal injury law.

Recommended articles about Personal injury

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer