When the Dog Attacks the Mailman

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on February 12, 2018

You wouldn’t think being a mailmen is inherently dangerous. But these jobs have certain risks. One of the biggest dangers? Dog bites. Dogs are very territorial and don’t like it when a stranger enters their property. This can cause them to become violent and attack mailmen or couriers who are just trying to do their jobs.

This raises the question: Can a mailman sue someone for a dog bite?

What Rights Do Mailmen Have Under Washington Law?

When a dog bites you on someone else’s property, it matter very much what your “status” is. The three statuses Washington state assigns visitors to a property are invitee, licensee, or trespasser.

Mailmen, couriers, and others entering the property to conduct business are considered licensees. Invitees, who are expressly invited onto the property, have a greater claim on the homeowner’s duty of care. (Trespassers have few to no legal rights in this regard.)

But property owners still have a duty to tell licensees of any unsafe conditions on the property. A warning could be as simple as placing a “Beware of Dog” sign on the door or gate, for certainly includes keeping the dog locked up, away from the mailbox.

What Defenses Do Dog Owners Have?

Washington is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites. This means that dog owners are held responsible if their dogs bite someone, even if the dog never displayed aggressive tendencies in the past. Under Washington’s dog bite statute, dog owners are responsible for any injuries resulting from their dogs biting someone in public, or who was lawfully on their property. This means that if the person was an invitee or licensee, the dog owner will be responsible for compensating him or her for damages.

However, if the dog was provoked to attack, such as by the mailman hitting the dog, screaming at the dog, or getting right in the dog’s face menacingly, the owner may not be held liable in a court of law.

Trespassing and provocation are the two main defenses for dog bites. However, we already know that mailmen aren’t trespassing, and usually do their best NOT to provoke dogs. If your dog attacked the mailman, your homeowners insurance policy may cover the claim and pay out compensation. But that is not always the case.

What Excuses Do Insurance Companies Make?

You may assume that flooding, fires, or theft are the most common claims homeowners make. Wrong. It’s actually dog bites. The liability portion of homeowners insurance should cover things like medical bills and pain and suffering of the dog bite victim. Usually, coverage starts at about $100,000, but dog bites can sometimes be quite extensive, even requiring plastic surgery to correct.

But homeowners insurance doesn’t always cover dog bites. There are certain breeds that have been blacklisted by many insurance companies, meaning the insurance will not cover an attack by those breeds. This is because they deem those dogs higher risk, and insurance companies do all they can to minimize risk. Dogs that are most often blacklisted by insurance companies are:

• Pit bulls
• Rottweilers
• German Shepherds
• Doberman Pinschers
• Wolf hybrids
• Mastiffs
• Great Danes
• Alaskan Malamutes
• Siberian Huskies

Check and make sure your homeowners insurance covers your dog’s breed. If not, you may wind up without insurance to cover any claims. This is bad news for both the homeowner and the dog bite victim.

What Happens If Insurance Doesn’t Cover the Dog Bite?

If insurance won’t cover the claim, the dog owner will be held personally responsible for covering all medical bills, emotional distress, and property damages. That compensation is much easier to recover for the victim if it’s coming from a multi-million dollar company and not a private citizen.

This is why hiring a qualified Seattle dog bite attorney is important. An attorney knows how to root out insurance coverage that the dog owner may not know about, and has the ability to take the case to trial if necessary to get the victim fair compensation.

If you were bitten by a dog, whether you’re a mailman or not, you deserve compensation for your injuries. For a free consultation, call Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., at (888) 228-3860.

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Written by Joseph Pendergast, this book is designed to help people who have suffered a personal injury understand their rights and the steps to take to be sure they get the compensation they deserve.

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