Do “Beware of Dog” Signs Protect Owners from Liability in Washington?

Categories: Dog Bite

dog bite

In most cases, posting the sign, “Beware of Dog” does not protect an owner from liability if an owner’s dog attacks someone. In fact, posting a “Beware of Dog” sign could serve as an admission of a dog’s dangerous or aggressive nature. However, under Washington law, an owner may be able to claim defenses that will limit their liability.

Washington State Dog Bite Liability Laws

Under Washington State’s dog bite law RCW 16.08.040, the owner of any dog that bites a person while that person is in a public place or lawfully on private property, including the dog owner’s property, is liable for any damages the victim suffers. This is true regardless of whether the dog formerly acted viciously or whether the dog’s owner knew of the dog’s vicious nature.

Because a dog owner is strictly liable when their dog attacks, with few exceptions, a “Beware of Dog” sign does not negate dog owner liability. This means that a dog attack victim has the right to pursue a claim against an owner regardless of warning signs, negligence, or a previous history of bites.

Dog Bite Liability Defenses

Under RCW 16.08.100, a “Beware of Dog” sign may, however, serve as a defense that limits an owner’s liability if the owner can prove:

  • That they complied with Washington’s requirements for owning a dangerous dog under 16.05.080;
  • That they enclosed their property with fencing suitable to prevent young children from entering and designed to prevent the dog from escaping;
  • That they marked their property with clearly visible signs warning people, including children, not to trespass and to beware of dogs; and
  • The victim trespassed on their real or personal property or provoked the dog without justification or excuse.

It’s also important to note that these sections apply only to dog bite incidents. Other cases of damaging canine behavior fall under parts of the RCW that address negligence.

What Should I Do If a Dog Bites Me on Someone’s Property?

Dog owners sometimes post signs as a deterrent or to scare off potential intruders. But they may also post signs to warn visitors of a dangerous dog’s presence. While a sign does not safeguard an owner from liability in most cases, you should take it seriously if you encounter a “Beware of Dog” sign when visiting a property. 

If a dog does attack you while you are visiting someone else’s property, try to stay calm. Then, after removing yourself from the situation, take the following steps:

  • Seek medical attention. If you can, clean and wash your wounds, apply an antibacterial ointment, and wrap them in sterile bandages. You should also go to the hospital for emergency medical treatment as soon after the attack as possible.
  • Document evidence and gather information. If feasible, take photographs of your injuries, the dog that bit you, and the area where the attack occurred. And be sure to exchange information with the animal’s owner and any witnesses to the attack.
  • File a report with your county animal control agency. Animal Control can investigate the incident, which could support your future case. The agency will also report and deal with dangerous animals to limit future attacks.   

If you or a loved one suffered a dog bite in Washington, it is essential to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can answer your questions, help you file a report, and walk you through a claim.

Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner Can Answer Your Dog Bite Questions

If you or a loved one has a dog bite claim in Washington, either as a dog owner or someone who suffered a bite or other injury, call Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner. When you hire us as your personal injury lawyers, you can stop worrying about medical bills, lost work, and future expenses. We’ve recovered over $100 million in damages for our clients and have a mighty 97% success rate. Let us concentrate on your financial recovery while you take care of recovering physically and emotionally. Consultations are always free, and we don’t take a fee unless we win. Reach out to us today.

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Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.