Washington Dog Bite Laws

A dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries in Washington state, time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in Washington courts, and more.

Updated By , J.D.

If you're a dog owner in Washington state, or you've been injured by someone else's dog, you might need to understand the state's dog bite injury liability rules and related laws. In this article, we'll cover:

  • the filing deadline for a dog bite lawsuit in Washington's court system
  • Washington's status as a "strict liability" state when it comes to a dog owner's responsibility after a bite, and
  • defenses a dog owner might raise in response to a personal injury lawsuit over a bite or similar injury in Washington.

Washington's Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Lawsuits

In every state, laws called statutes of limitations set limits on how much time can pass before a civil lawsuit must be filed. Different time limits apply to different kinds of cases, but if you miss the filing window, the court will almost certainly dismiss your claim, unless a rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

In Washington, as in most states, dog bite (or dog-caused injury) claims fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," so the statute of limitations spelled out at Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.080 applies. This law sets a three-year deadline for the filing of almost all types of personal injury lawsuits,

So, in the context of a dog bite lawsuit, that means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in the appropriate Washington court within three years of the date of the bite or other injury.

Washington's Dog Bite Statute

Under Revised Code of Washington section 16.08.040, a dog's owner is liable for dog bite injuries suffered by any person who is "in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner" of the dog.

This is a "strict liability" statute, which means the dog owner is liable whether or not he or she was negligent in connection with the incident that resulted in bite injuries, as long as the injured person had a legal right to be in the location where the bite occurred. Even when the dog owner took all reasonable precautions in the moments leading up to the bite, they're still liable for the injured person's medical bills, "pain and suffering," and other damages. (The only exception is when the bite is inflicted by a police dog.)

What the dog owner knew or should have known about the dog's tendencies is also irrelevant under section 16.08.040, which holds the owner liable "regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."

But note that the "strict liability" provisions of section 16.08.040 only apply only to injuries caused by a dog bite. Injuries caused by other dog behavior will likely be measured against negligence rules in the state of Washington. For instance, suppose a child is playing on the sidewalk in front of her house when the neighbor's dog runs out of its yard and knocks her over, injuring her. A successful personal injury case will likely require showing that the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care to restrain the animal or otherwise prevent the injury. Learn more about negligence versus strict liability in dog bite cases.

Defenses to Washington Dog Bite Claims

The applicability of a claimed defense will depend on the specific circumstances in which the bite or other injury occurred. But Revised Code of Washington section 16.08.060 says: "Proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person shall be a complete defense to an action for damages." So, if the injured person provoked the dog, the animal's owner is probably off the legal hook.

A dog owner might also successfully argue that the injured person was trespassing at the time of the bite. Recall that Washington's dog bite statute (section 16.08.040) requires the injured person to be on public property or lawfully on private property at the time of the bite in order to recover damages.

If you find yourself involved in a dog bite claim in Washington—either as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.

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