Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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Our Dog Bite Attorney Seattle Provides an Overview of Dog-Bite Laws

Posted Friday, March 11, 2016 by Chris Thayer

Clients sometimes ask our dog bite attorney Seattle who is responsible for dog bites in the state of Washington. The law clearly specifies that the owner is liable, and legislation covers various aspects of dog bite law as follows.

An Overview of Dog Bite Laws

State laws favor the victims of dog bites and hold owners responsible although landlords are generally excluded from this provision. However, those who keep or harbor a dog or act negligently can also be held responsible. If a dog previously acted aggressively, biting someone, injuring someone or acting as if it might hurt someone, then the responsible party will be held liable if the dog hurts anyone in the future. This knowledge, based on the canine’s previous actions, is called ‘scienter’ and applies to any domestic animal. Responsible parties include anyone who did not act to control the dog when it hurt someone, no matter how the canine hurt the injured party.

Scienter and Common Law Liability

According to case law, the dog’s owner, harborer or keeper can be found responsible for injury if he or she knows the dog’s aggressive tendencies and does not protect others. However, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant know about the dog’s tendency toward violence. The courts have labeled this as the ‘one-bite rule.’

Negligence Liability in Canine Bites

Although an owner is responsible if he or she has knowledge of a dangerous canine in the event of an injury, the same owner will be held negligent only if he or she fails to prevent an injury. The owner must exercise control similar to what another reasonable person would exercise in the same situation when considering the dog’s previous actions and the prevention of injuries.

Washington Legislation and Statutory Liability

State law indicates that even when a dog has not exhibited previously aggressive behavior, the dog’s owner is still responsible in the event of a canine bite.

Legal Issues and Aggressive Canines

According to state legislation, if the owner lets a vicious canine roam freely, he or she has committed a crime and could be held responsible under negligence laws. Local laws might differ slightly but will usually be more restrictive. For example, under Seattle city laws, when a canine is in public, it must be on a leash.

Landlord Liability

For the most part, landlords are completely exempt when a tenant owns a vicious dog, even if the landlord is aware of the dog’s dangerous behavior. Only the person directly responsible for the canine – the harborer, keeper or owner – is responsible. This holds true even when two tenants live on the property with the canine of one renter injuring another renter.

Defining an Owner

Since the owner is solely responsible, the court must define who, exactly, qualifies as an owner. In the case of Harris v. Turner, the homeowner, who did not own the dog, was not found responsible after a renter’s canine collided with a motorcycle, injuring a passenger. Instead, the courts ruled against the dog owners.

In the case of Shafer v. Beyers, the property owner was similarly not held responsible when another person sublet the owner’s apartment. The owners were not aware of the dog, and the sub-tenants were temporarily keeping the canine although it was not clear if they actually owned the animal. The court eventually decided that the animal did not show dangerous tendencies before the accident. As such, the case showed that the person’s scienter of the animal’s potential danger determines the level of liability.

Call Our Dog Bite Attorney Seattle at (866) 884-2417

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a canine attack or bite, Chris Thayer can provide you with further insight on dog bite law.