When one is bitten or otherwise injured by contact with a dog, there are both statutory and common law remedies available to obtain care and compensation. These claims are typically against the owner(s) of the animal. Where there is an actual bite, the liability for the resulting injuries and care is absolute under state law. Where there is not a bite, the claims are brought under the common law for the owner’s failure to properly supervise or restrain the animal.
The laws of Washington state mandate that dog owners are held responsible when their dog bites an innocent party. Specifically, the Revised Code of Washington 16.08.040, provides for a standard of “strict liability” on the dog owner. The law states:
Liability. The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.
The law is straightforward and sets out a strict liability standard. This means that when the owner’s dog bites someone else when that person is lawfully in a public place or on the dog owner’s land, then the dog owner is liable for any injuries or damages related to the dog bite. The strict liability law holds dog owners to a higher standard of responsibility as a matter of law because of the potential for significant injury that exists when a dog bites a person.
The strict liability laws do not apply in all dog bite situations. For example, when there is evidence of provocation of the dog, the owner is not strictly or automatically liable for the injuries. RCW 16.08.070 of the law quoted above states:
Provocation as a defense. Proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person shall be a complete defense to an action for damages.