What Happens If a Dog Bites a Trespasser?

Categories: Dog Bite

dog bite

In Washington, dog owner liability may not extend to you if the law deems you a trespasser at the time of the attack. Nevertheless, Washington has strict expectations of dog owners, so if you were bit by a dog while in a place you were lawfully allowed to be, you may be entitled to compensation.

More than 4 million people are the victims of dog bite attacks annually in America, and more than 800,000 require medical attention for their injuries. While many view dogs as loving pets and family members, those injured by dog bites understandably feel different. 

An attack leaves many with not only permanent scars and disfigurement but lifelong emotional trauma. Any dog can bite—whether big or small, male or female, young or old. 

You deserve to recover compensation for the trauma and injuries suffered. Speak to a qualified lawyer to understand your rights after a dog bite and how Washington laws on trespassers may affect your claim.

What Happens If a Dog Bites a Trespasser? 

Washington’s dog bite law operates as a strict liability law. However, the law only extends to situations where a person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. As a result, if someone was bit while trespassing on the property of another, a dog owner is not generally liable for their dog’s actions. Dog bite victims may have a claim against the dog owner if the bite occurs:

  • In the home of the dog owner, 
  • In the yard of the dog owner, 
  • In a public place where the dog is present, 
  • In any retail establishment, or
  • Anywhere the victim has a right to be.

As long as the bite occurs in one of these places, and the victim did not provoke the dog, dog owners are liable when their dog bites someone, even if the dog never bit anyone before. Determining whether you may be classified as a trespasser greatly impacts your ability to recover compensation in a potential dog bite lawsuit.

What Is a Trespasser? 

When a person enters the private property of another and is not legally or lawfully permitted to be on the property, they are trespassing. For example, in a situation where a burglar enters the private property of another and a dog bites them, they may not file a dog bite lawsuit for their injuries, because they were trespassing at the time they were injured. 

However, there may be situations when a trespasser is still permitted to file a lawsuit against a dog owner. For example, a dog owner may be responsible if they acted unreasonably in the circumstances and their actions resulted in a dog attacking another person. 

Additionally, if a child suffers a dog bite while trespassing on the property of another, most states agree that dog owner liability extends to the child. Even if a child was not lawfully on the property of another, an attorney may argue that a child wouldn’t understand they were trespassing at the time.

Simply entering a property without a landowner’s permission does not automatically deem you a trespasser. For example, when solicitors visit a residence, absent a “No Soliciting” sign or a locked gate, solicitors may have implied permission to enter the property. If a dog subsequently attacks a person in these circumstances, they may still file a claim for compensation for their injuries. 

What Other Defenses Affect Dog Owner Liability?

In addition to a defense claiming the victim was a trespasser, a dog owner may raise other defenses to a dog bite lawsuit, including that the victim provoked the dog and that the dog was working in law enforcement.


A dog owner may claim that the injured victim provoked the attack. A dog owner is not liable for the plaintiff’s injury if the owner proves that the injured party provoked the dog. Provocation means taunting, teasing, threatening, or other aggravating behavior. When this defense is raised, the injured victim must prove that they did not provoke the dog to attack them in any way. 

Working Dogs

Dog bite also laws do not extend to law enforcement working dogs. These animals and their handlers undertake specialized training. As a result, law enforcement agencies are exempt from a potential dog bite lawsuit if a working dog bites a suspect while performing its duties.

What Is the Dog Bite Law in Washington? 

The dog bite law applies only to dog bites. Therefore, if a dog harms a person in another way, such as by knocking them over or tripping them, the dog bite law does not apply to any subsequent injuries. However, dog owners may also be liable under other laws if they fail to adequately control their dog. For example, if a dog is known to be aggressive or sensitive around children, the owner may be liable if the dog causes injury to a child—even if they did not bite the child. 

What Can I Recover in a Dog Bite Lawsuit? 

You may be compensated for your injuries and damages when your attorney establishes dog owner liability. Injured victims may receive compensatory relief from economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages include financial losses directly related to your injury and include the following: 

  • Medical expenses, 
  • Follow-up medical care, 
  • Surgical procedures, 
  • Lost wages, 
  • Future loss of earnings, 
  • Property damage, 
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses. 

Retain copies of all receipts, invoices, pay stubs, and other tangible evidence of your financial losses. Your attorney uses this information to calculate your demand for economic recovery. 

Non-economic damages pertain to subjective losses related to your injury. These include the following: 

  • Pain and suffering, 
  • Emotional distress, 
  • Loss of quality of life, 
  • Loss of consortium,
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement.

It’s challenging to prove non-economic damages without the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. Although harder to establish, in many cases, non-economic damages provide injured victims with the financial support they need after such an emotionally traumatic event. 

Contact Us 

If you wish to file a dog bite lawsuit, contact the office of Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner today. From the moment you hire us as your Washington State personal injury lawyers, you can focus on recovering from your injuries. At the same time, we work to get you the compensation you deserve. We understand dog owner liability and know the defenses a dog owner may raise in an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for your injuries. We work hard to achieve the best results for our clients. It costs nothing upfront to hire us—we only get paid when you do. We are compassionate, knowledgeable, and aggressive when it comes to fighting for your rights. We know your livelihood is at stake and work tirelessly to get you on a positive path forward. Contact our office today for a free consultation to find out how our lawyers can help you!

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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.