Gardner Trabolsi & Associates PLLC

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Who’s responsible when the bark turns into a bite?

Understanding the legal aspects surrounding dog bites is crucial for protecting yourself and seeking appropriate compensation. To enhance your knowledge on this important topic, we invite you to watch our informative YouTube video “3 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Dog Bites”. Click here to watch the video and empower yourself with the knowledge needed to navigate dog bite incidents effectively. Remember, being informed is your best defense.

“My dog is always friendly.”

“That’s the first time she’s ever bitten somebody.”

“I’ve never seen him act vicious like that.”

You’ve probably heard a dog owner say one of these things before, either just before a bite or just after one. In fact, if you have a dog you might have heard yourself say one of these things. (And if you’re in Seattle, which has long been famous for having more dogs than people, there’s a pretty good chance you own a dog.)

What you might not realize is that none of those statements create a valid defense for a dog bite—at least not in Washington, which has a strict liability law for these situations.

So forget about the old saying that “the first bite is free.” Here’s the real scoop on who’s responsible when a dog bite injures someone:

The owner.

That’s it. That’s the answer—with limited exceptions. Essentially, unless the injured person was trespassing or it can be proven that they provoked the attack, the owner is automatically liable under state law. Even if the dog has never bitten anybody before. Even if they’ve shown no signs of aggression.

What to do if you’ve been bitten

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, millions of people are bitten by dogs in the United States every year. While only about 20% of bites require medical attention, the expenses can be significant—the average claim for a bite (usually covered by the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance) is close to $50,000, and some cases can reach seven figures.

If you’ve been injured by a dog bite, it’s important to do a few things if possible to protect your rights. (Of course, if you’re seriously injured, you should seek medical attention immediately.)

  • Get the owner’s contact information
  • Get contact information from witnesses
  • Contact the police and animal control 
  • Write down all the details of the attack as soon as possible
  • Take pictures to document your injuries and any other important details

Even if the owner offers to pay your medical expenses, or if they’re a friend, you’ll still want to take the above steps. Can you really trust that the owner will reimburse you if your bills run into the thousands of dollars? What if you miss time at work? And what if the owner’s insurance company makes a settlement offer that won’t cover your costs?

That’s when you need the assistance of an attorney—someone who will fight to ensure you are fairly compensated for not only your physical injuries, but for emotional trauma, loss of income, and additional expenses.

Tips for dog owners

Even though we’re personal injury lawyers, we’d be happy if nobody ever got bitten by a dog.

Here are a few tips for owners to minimize the risk:

  • Always keep your dog on a leash in public, or when they’re around unfamiliar people.
  • Be careful at home, too—that’s where most dog bites occur.
  • If your dog seems anxious or agitated, remove them from the situation.
  • Be especially vigilant when children approach you and your dog—if the child doesn’t know how to interact with dogs, they might startle yours.
  • Invest in quality training to ensure your dog responds to your voice commands.

Have you been injured by a dog?

Don’t assume that the owner or their insurance company is going to compensate you or your loved one fairly for your expenses. Call us for a free consultation to understand your options.