Washington State Dog Bite Laws – What You Need to Know

Dog bites are not only painful, but they can also be stressful to deal with and expensive to treat. If this event happened to you in Washington State, you might want to know what the dog bite laws are.

Over the years, our dog bite attorneys have heard these questions many times. Here’s what you need to know.

What are the Laws about Dog Bites in Washington State?

Washington State’s law makes it clear that when a dog bites someone, the owner is responsible to pay for the victim’s damages (RCW 16.08.040). This is true whether or not the dog had bitten before, or if the owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s potential to bite. 

Here are a few additional points about the dog bite law in Washington you should be aware of:

  • The owner is responsible if their dog attacks someone on public or private property. This includes the owner’s own home.
  • Washington is a strict liability state. Again, a dog owner is responsible even if they didn’t know their dog was dangerous.
  • There are times when the owner is exempt from responsibility. For instance, if you were trespassing or provoked a dog, the owner won’t be liable. Also, if a police dog bites in the line of duty, it’s excluded in most cases.
  • The owner is also responsible for damages to other animals. For instance, if your neighbor’s dog attacks and kills your dog, the owner is liable to pay for your costs.

To sum up, Washington State law favors victims of dog bites. The law also holds owners accountable for their dog’s actions at all times. Remember, laws can and do change over time. While we’ve worked to keep our post current, you may wish to read Chapter 16.08 which deals with dog ownership in Washington.

Depending on where the bite took place, city and county laws may be a factor, too. An experienced Washington dog bite lawyer can help determine if any local laws apply to your situation.

Explanation of Washington State Dog Bite Law

Does Washington have a Leash Law?

There is no state-wide law that requires owners to keep their pets on a leash. However, many cities and communities within the state may have their own leash laws. Plus, certain properties, such as those belonging to schools or parks, may have posted rules about dogs. When in a state park, owners must keep their dogs on a leash no longer than 8 feet.

In general, it’s a good idea for dog owners to keep their pets leashed unless on their private property or a designated “off leash” park.

What Steps Should I take if a Dog has Bitten Me?

We recognize that a dog bite is a chaotic event, with lots of elements and people involved. Here are the things we recommend you do immediately following a dog bite:

  1. Get medical care. Don’t wait around – call 911 if the injuries are severe and/or the victim is vulnerable (e.g., a small child or elderly). Infections can happen when even minor injuries are not treated right away. A doctor can assess the extent of your wounds and provide thorough treatment.
  2. Identify the dog and dog owner. It’s important that you can identify which dog caused the bite. Get the dog owner’s name, contact information, and if possible – their home insurance information.
  3. Identify any witnesses. Get the contact information of anyone who witnessed the attack, or has witnessed aggressive behavior from the dog in the past.
  4. Collect relevant photos. Photograph your injuries soon after. If you’re able, take photos of the scene of the attack. Include photos of anything relevant – such as a broken fence or a “beware of dog” sign.
  5. Report the incident. Make sure to report the incident to animal control. (We’ll share a bit more on that in the next section).
  6. Contact a personal injury attorneyMost people do not think to file a dog bite claim, leaving good money on the table. Calling an attorney early on in the process is helpful, and may mean a faster settlement.

The Mayo Clinic also has some additional information on caring for minor wounds at home, or until you can get to a health-care provider.

Should I Report a Dog Bite in Washington State?

We recommend that you report the dog bite to your local animal control office. Reporting the incident helps protect other people from being hurt. It also helps your case, should you choose to file a lawsuit.

Here’s where to file a dog bite complaint in Washington State:

Live elsewhere? Search for your county’s animal control department to file a complaint.

If a Dog Bites Me, Will it be Quarantined or Euthanized?

The animal control department for your city or county may have their own guidelines for handling dangerous dogs.

There are a variety of consequences for a dog bite. Most likely, the owner will face a hefty fee. Depending on past incidents with the dog and the nature of the attack, the dog may be quarantined in the owner’s home, or required to wear a muzzle. In severe cases, the dog may need to be euthanized (for instance, if the attack was fatal).

What you should know: filing a lawsuit has no bearing if the dog will be removed from its home or euthanized. Animal control will make that decision – it has nothing to do with your case. Our attorneys are only focused on helping you get compensation for your injuries.

Who Pays for My Injuries When I’ve been Bitten by a Dog?

In Washington State, the dog owner is responsible for paying for your injuries. In general, their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will cover your claim. If the claim exceeds the coverage, they will be responsible for the difference.

Consider these statistics from the Insurance Information Institute:

  • $675 million was paid out in dog-related liability claims in 2018.
  • The average claim was just over $39,000 in 2018.
  • The average claim has increased over 103% from 2003 to 2018 due to increased medical costs as well as higher settlements.

Dealing with a dog bite injury can be complicated and stressful. Often, it’s best to call a qualified dog bite attorney. At Ladenburg Law, we’ll take on the stress of handling the details so you can focus on your healing. Insurance companies may pay settlements that won’t fully compensate your losses. Call us today for a no-fee consultation about your case.

    Get a Free Case Evaluation