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Washington State Dog-Bite Liability and Public Parks

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on January 26, 2021

Seeing a dog in public can be a delightful event, but that joy can quickly turn to terror when Fido suddenly attacks you. You may have been enjoying a run or stroll in Washington Park Arboretum or Discovery Park when, without warning, you found yourself the victim of a serious dog bite. The owner may have pulled their animal off you and apologized, but that does little to cure your injuries. After seeing your medical bills, you may be worried about how to cover these costs. However, according to Washington state’s dog-bite laws, you may have more options than you think.

What Are Washington State’s Dog-Bite Laws?

The state of Washington follows the concept of strict liability with regard to dog bites. Under this theory, a dog’s owner can be held responsible for a victim’s injuries if their dog attacked the victim, including if the dog bit, scratched, or knocked down the victim. Typically, this means that a victim can file a dog bite claim against the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Even if the dog’s owner tried to restrain the dog and apologizes for the attack, he or she is still liable for your trauma.

However, there are two key defenses the owner may use when you pursue compensation with the insurance company: provocation and private property.

Provocation refers to the act of a person provoking a dog, such as threatening, scaring, intimidating, or attacking it. If the dog was acting in defense of itself or its owner, then the owner cannot be held liable if the “provoker” was bitten. But, if witnesses, surveillance footage, or other evidence shows that you did not provoke the animal, then you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries.

With regard to private property, dog owners cannot be held liable for their pets’ actions if the victim was trespassing on private property, such as the owner’s backyard or front lawn. That being said, the law does allow victims who were legally allowed to be on the owner’s property to receive compensation. This can include a postal worker, utility worker, or neighbor whom the owner knew would be entering the property. This is referred to under RCW 16.08.050 as “implied or explicit consent” from the owner to enter the property.

If the attack occurred on public property, whether a mall, shop, restaurant, or park, then the owner can and should be found strictly liable for the victim’s injuries. This also applies to dog parks such as Grandview Off-Leash Area or Woodland Off-Leash Dog Park. Even though dogs are allowed to roam off-leash in most Seattle dog parks, that does not give owners a free pass when their pet bites someone. Owners should properly train their dogs and keep them under control at all times.

If you were bitten by a dog in one of Seattle’s parks, you are well within your rights to pursue a personal injury claim against the owner’s insurance policy. But these claims can become complicated, as you will need to break down the costs you have suffered due to the attack and negotiate with the insurance company. They may attempt to shift blame from the owner to you by using the provocation defense, but our team at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., can rigorously review your case and collect evidence to support your claim. Our Seattle personal injury attorneys are well-versed in dealing with dismissive insurance companies and can provide the strong legal representation you need after a dog bite. To speak to us in a free case evaluation, call Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., at (425) 228-3860 and toll-free at (888) 228-3860.

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