LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Christopher Michael Davis | Apr 7, 2010

Understanding Parental Immunity, Provocation by Child, & Statute of Limitations in Dog Bite Cases

Parental Immunity One question that arises is whether a child's parent can be held responsible for injuries inflicted upon the child by the family dog. The answer is often no. Washington State recognizes a law called the Parental Immunity Doctrine. Under this doctrine, a negligent parent is immune from liability for injuries caused to the child unless the parent was acting outside his or her parental capacity, or if the child's injuries were caused by a parent's willful and wanton misconduct. In the case of a family dog injuring a child, the parents will likely be immune from liability under this doctrine. Negligence or Provocation by the Child Washington law states that a child can be held negligent and therefore wholly or partially responsible for that child's injuries and damages. Thus, the dog owner may be permitted to argue that the child was comparatively negligent for causing the injury. But in Washington there are certain limitations when it comes to accidents and injuries involving negligent children. First, the law in Washington is that children under the age of 6 years cannot be held negligent as a matter of law. The Washington State Supreme Court has decided that a child under age 6 does not have the mental capacity to be negligent. This means that any time a child under age 6 has been injured by a dog, the dog owner's is not permitted to argue that the child was at fault. Although the issue has not been considered by Washington courts, one could also convincingly argue that a child under 6 does not have the mental capacity to intentionally provoke a dog. Thus, the provocation defense available to the dog owner under the Dog Bite Statute may not be available in the case where the victim was a child under the age of 6. Children age 6 and older can be held negligent, but only for failing to exercise the ordinary care that a reasonably careful child of the same age, intelligence, maturity, training, and experience would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Thus, a dog owner may be able to argue that an older child was wholly or partially responsible for the child's injuries, or that the child provoked the dog and recovery should therefore be denied under the Dog Bite Statute. Whether such an argument against the child is successful will depend heavily upon the particular facts of the case. Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Cases Involving Children For adults, the statute of limitations in dog bite cases in Washington is three (3) years from the date of injury. This means the claim must be settled or filed in court within three years. But for children, this three-year period does not begin to run until a minor child turns 18. Thus, a child will usually have until his or her 21st birthday to settle the claim or file a lawsuit in court. Usually however, a young child's claim should be resolved well before that child turns 21.

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