Dog Bite Injury

Seattle Injury Attorney | Dog Bite Injury

Nearly 4.5 millions Americans suffer dog bites each year, half of them children. About one in five dog bite injury cases are serious enough to require medical attention. In 2012, more than 27,000 people in the US underwent reconstructive  surgery as the result of a dog bite. [1]

Liability for injury caused by a dog may rest on either strict liability or negligence, or both. Our Seattle Injury Attorney can help.

Strict Liability.

In Washington a dog owner is strictly liable for injuries resulting from dog bite that occurs “on a public place” or when the injury victim was “lawfully in or on a private place” unless the dog bite victim was trespassing or provoked the dog. The dog bite victim does not have to prove the dog was dangerous. There is no one-bite rule. The dog owner is responsible if the owner’s dog bites someone. [2]

Strict liability applies only to a dog owner. It does not apply to a dog sitter. A keeper of a dog or other dangerous animal may still be liable under rules of negligence.


A dog owner is automatically responsible for dog bite injury, regardless of the dog’s past behavior. Someone else who is keeping the dog, like a dog sitter, is not automatically responsible. A dog keeper is responsible only if negligent.  In order to prevail on a theory of negligence the injury victim must prove that the keeper of the dog knew or reasonably should know the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities likely to cause the injury. [3]

A negligence cause of action arises when there is ineffective control of an animal in a situation where it would reasonably be expected that injury could occur. The amount of control required is that which would be exercised by a reasonable person based upon the total situation at the time, including the past behavior of the animal and the injuries that could have been reasonably foreseen. The amount of care required is commensurate with the character of the animal. [4]

Dog owner or keeper. 

A person may be considered an owner of a dog if they live with and care for the dog, even if they were not the purchaser of the dog. [6]

A landowner is not automatically liable simply because of the fact the animal was kept on their property.[7] For instance,  a landlord is generally not liable for injury caused by a tenant’s dangerous animal. [8] By the same token, a landlord’s insurance will likely not cover injuries caused by a tenant’s dog.

Local ordinance.

Local city or county laws may place additional responsibilities on dog owners, and may trigger liability.

This is a short summary of Washington law regarding liability for dog bite injury. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Contact our Seattle Injury Attorney for more information.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American Veterinary Medical Association.

[2] RCW 16.08.040.

[3] Arnold v. Laird, 94 Wn.2d 867, 621 P.2d 138 (1980).

[4] Id., citing Johnston v. Ohls, 76 Wn.2d 398, 457 P.2d 194 (1969) and adopting The Restatement (Second) of Torts.

[5] Id.

[6] Beeler v. Hickman, 50 Wn. App. 746; 750 P.2d 1282; 1988 Wash. App. LEXIS 129 (1988);

[7] Harris v. Turner, 1 Wn. App. 1023, 466 P.2d 202, review denied, 78 Wn.2d 993 (1970).

[8] Frobig v. Gordon, 124 Wn.2d 732, 881 P.2d 226 (1994). 

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