Suffering from a dog bite can bring up complicated emotions, hefty medical costs, and considerable pain. Victims of dog bites have rights, so you shouldn’t be shy to speak to an experienced Seattle dog bite lawyer about your options after suffering an injury. At Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC, we are trial-tested attorneys with a great success rate. We have helped thousands, and we can help you hold at-fault dog owners and their insurance providers accountable for your medical and financial needs resulting from an attack.
Animal Control Rules for Dogs in Seattle
Close to five million people are bitten by dogs in the United States each year. Whether the dog that does the biting is scared, ill, unsocialized, or angry, the victim’s pain is often the same. There’s likely no way to reduce the number of dog bites per year to zero, but animal control rules can do a lot to decrease the likelihood of a bite or severe injury.
Seattle’s leash laws protect many people from suffering a dog bite injury. All dogs must generally be on leashes in Seattle. There are a few areas in Seattle where animals can roam without a leash. Seattle’s off-leash areas include:
- Blue Dog Pond,
- Denny Park,
- Dr. Jose Rizal Park,
- Genesee Park,
- Golden Gardens,
- I-5 Colonnade,
- Kinnear Park,
- Magnolia Manor Park,
- Magnuson Park,
- Northacres Park,
- Plymouth Pillars,
- Regrade Park,
- Westcrest Park, and
- Woodland Park.
For many of these listed areas, only a portion of the land is for off-leash activities. You can get more details about these off-leash zones on the Seattle Parks and Recreation website.
The Seattle Municipal Code also requires owners of dogs over eight weeks of age to have licenses, and rabies vaccinations are required for dogs four months of age and older. An owner of an attack or guard dog must have an additional license and insurance.
Prevention is the best relief, but sometimes unfortunate events occur. If you’ve suffered a dog bite, you need to know the owner’s obligations and your rights.
Dog Owner Liability for Bites
Owners of dogs that bite people or other animals can be subject to civil and criminal liability. The level of intent, which is also called “scienter,” necessary to make an owner liable changes depending on which state the bite happens in and the circumstances of the dog bite.
In General, Owners Are Strictly Liable for Their Dogs’ Bites in Civil Cases
In a number of personal injury and criminal cases, you have to prove that the defendant had a certain level of intent connected to their actions. But you don’t have to prove anything about a dog owner’s intent to win a civil suit for dog bite injuries. Under Washington law, owners are strictly liable for their dogs’ bites. Strict liability means that the dog owner doesn’t have to intend to harm you, and they don’t have to be negligent to be responsible for your injuries. If you’re in public or lawfully on private property when a dog bites you, the owner is normally liable. And contrary to what many might think, there’s no “one free bite” before a dog owner in Washington is liable for their pet. An owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog has a history of vicious behavior or the owner knows about the dog’s viciousness.
In addition to owners, “keepers” or “harborers” of dogs that bite are civilly liable for damages from their dogs’ bites. A keeper or harborer is someone who has control over and protects a dog. If the owner of the dog that bit you doesn’t have insurance or likely doesn’t have the funds to pay for your damages, you might be able to recover from a harborer or keeper of the dog. If you’re not sure how many people should be responsible for your dog bite injuries, it’s crucial to speak to an experienced Seattle dog bite attorney who can identify all the right defendants and maximize your chance at a full recovery.
Owners of Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dogs Can Be Criminally Liable for Their Dogs’ Attacks
Owners of dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs must be extra careful to prevent their dogs from causing harm, or they could face criminal liability and the loss of their dog.
What are dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs?
A potentially dangerous dog is a dog that bites, attacks, or threatens a human or domestic animal without provocation. A dangerous dog is a dog that causes severe injury to a human without provocation, kills a domestic animal without provocation (while off the owner’s property), or endangers human safety after being found to be potentially dangerous.
When are owners of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs criminally liable for their dogs’ actions?
If a dog causes the death or severe injury of a person and a prosecutor can prove that the owner should have known the dog was potentially dangerous, the owner could be guilty of a class C felony. If an owner of a dangerous dog has a prior dog-related conviction and their dog attacks a person or domestic animal, the owner could be guilty of a class C felony. The law also commands that dogs that commit these attacks be humanely put down. Dangerous dogs might also be confiscated and humanely euthanized if their owners don’t have proper licensing, pet enclosures, or control over their dogs.
Defenses and Exceptions to Criminal and Civil Liability
There are very few defenses an owner has against a dog bite lawsuit or charge. Knowing these defenses can help you avoid harm and gather appropriate evidence for complaints.
In general, a dog owner has a defense in a civil dog bite case if they can prove that you were trespassing on private property or provoking their dog when you suffered the attack.
Dog owners facing felony charges for attacks that severely injure or kill people can defend themselves by proving the following:
- The bite victim was trespassing on the owner’s property and there was an adequate fence enclosure and visible signs warning adults and children not to trespass and to beware of the dog or
- The bite victim unjustifiably provoked the dog on the owner’s property and there was an adequate fence enclosure and visible signs warning adults and children not to trespass and to beware of the dog.
The prosecution also has to prove that the owner knew, or should have known, about the potentially dangerous nature of the dog. The prosecution cannot use the dog’s breed as proof of potential dangerousness.
Dangerous dog owners facing felony charges for attacks against people or domestic animals can defend themselves by proving the following:
- They complied with all dangerous dog ownership rules, and the victim was trespassing when bitten or
- They complied with all dangerous dog ownership rules and the victim unjustifiably provoked the dog.
As soon as you’re ready, it’s good to take notes about everything you saw during the attack. You might need to give testimony about why you were on the property and what kinds of signs, restraints, and enclosures there were for the dog in a hearing against a dog owner.
Exceptions for Police Dogs
If you’ve been attacked by a lawfully used police dog, the owner is not strictly liable for your injuries.
Damages Available in a Dog Bite Case
Like many personal injury cases, you can win economic and noneconomic damages for your dog bite injuries. Economic damages are what you have to pay out of pocket because of the attack (e.g., medical bills, replacement of damaged property, lost earnings, etc.). They also include your future financial needs caused by the attack. Noneconomic damages are harder to quantify but no less important. They include:
- Mental anguish,
- Emotional distress,
- Loss of society and companionship,
- Loss of consortium,
- Injury to reputation and humiliation, and
- Destruction of the parent-child relationship.
The first step to proving these damages is often giving your own detailed account of all the ways your life has changed since the attack. Once you can identify these life changes, your Seattle dog bite attorney can calculate the best financial representation of your turmoil. Your wellbeing is worth more than money, but you should at least receive any financial compensation the law allows.
Time Limit for a Dog Bite Lawsuit
You have three years to start a civil lawsuit against the owner of a dog that bit you. While you’re trying to heal and live your life, this window of time can close quicker than you might expect. A lawyer can handle your legal deadlines and give your case the professional attention necessary to win you the largest award possible.
Contact Our Experienced Seattle Dog Bite Lawyers Today
Our Seattle dog bite attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC have recovered over $100 million for our clients. We have over 40 years of combined experience, compassionate guidance, and fierce advocacy.
We also handle other types of injury cases, including:
If you’re unsure of what you need, we give free consultations, and we have time to talk. You can fill out our online contact form or call us at 206-488-1611 for help.