Washington Strict Liability Dog Bite Law Only Applies When There Is a Dog Bite

A dog owner is generally strictly liable for injuries resulting from a Washington dog bite if the person who was bitten was in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property.  This strict liability statute applies only when the dog bites a person.  Where there is no dog bite, strict liability does not apply.

A woman recently appealed a jury verdict against her in an alleged dog bite case.  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant and his mother-in-law alleging one of the defendant’s dogs bit her during an altercation between her dog and the defendant’s dogs.  The defendant’s dogs were in his mother-in-law’s care at the time of the incident, but the mother-in-law settled with the plaintiff prior to trial.  The plaintiff alleged the defendant was strictly liable for her injuries as the dog’s owner pursuant to RCW 16.08.040.  Under RCW 16.08.040, a dog owner is liable for injuries resulting from his or her dog biting a person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place.

The jury responded “no” on the special verdict form asking if one of the defendant’s dogs bit the plaintiff.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing the jury instructions were erroneous.  The appeals court, found, however, that the plaintiff had not preserved the issues regarding the jury instructions for appeal and therefore did not address them.

The plaintiff also argued the trial court erred by limiting her damages under RCW 16.08.040.  The appeals court found, however, that damages available under that statute only arise if a dog has bitten a person.  The jury answered “no” on the special verdict form, finding the dogs did not bite the plaintiff. The plaintiff was therefore not entitled to recover under the strict liability statute. The appeals court affirmed the jury’s verdict and therefore did not address the scope of damages available under the statute.

This case shows that a dog bite is a necessary element of recovery pursuant to RCW 16.08.040. The plaintiff must prove that a dog bite occurred to succeed on a strict liability claim.  In some cases, however, dogs may cause injuries that do not result from bites.  A dog may injure a person by scratching or knocking the person down.  Furthermore, the strict liability statute applies only to owners.  In some cases, including this one, the injury may occur when the dog is in the care of someone other than the owner.

An injured person is not necessarily precluded from recovery for an injury caused by a dog just because the strict liability statute does not apply.  An injury victim to whom the strict liability statute does not apply may still be able to recover through common law claims.  The victim may be able to recover, for example, if he or she is able to show the defendant knew of the dog’s vicious propensity or failed to obey leash laws.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by someone else’s dog, an experienced Washington personal injury attorney can help you identify and pursue any claims you may have to recover for your injuries.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.