Many companies talk about being “pet friendly,” but the fifty states of the union are usually a lot more reticent about their animal policies. Washington State dog bite laws are a case in point. The Washington state statues are definitely tilted toward giving at least the initial benefit of the doubt to the canines of the world.
This is not to say that people who are bitten by dogs are left dangling in the wind. They are not, and the dog’s owner or handler is held to strict account. However, the parties that an injured person can sue for damages is a strictly limited group that generally excludes some of the frequent targets of such proceedings. Landlords are particularly fortunate in being shielded from claims as a result of a bite inflicted by a tenant’s animal. Naturally, they are not completely protected, but they are largely in the clear as long as there is not some clear pattern of neglect or collusion between themselves and the dog’s actual owner.
While the dog itself is fully responsible for the harm it commits, its owners, handlers, and keepers are granted a limited presumption of innocence so long as there has been no previous sign of vicious conduct. If a dog is known to be dangerous, the liability shifts more toward the responsible humans who knew about the problem but failed to address it. If a dog’s owner knows it is a risk to the community but fails to keep it securely penned, for example, the law starts to come down hard on the human.
Yet Washington dog bite laws take care to restrict the circle of potentially liable individuals to those who are in actual ownership or possession of the animal. A landlord who rents his or her house to someone with a dog is generally not liable unless he or she also lives on the premises or is in some way enabling a known dangerous dog to roam. Renting to a dog owner who fails to maintain the fence and who allows the dog to create havoc is not a liable condition. Renting a house without a fence to someone who has a dangerous dog is a situation that is more likely to see the homeowner become liable through his or her own poor judgment.
Deciding what is and is not a dangerous dog mostly boils down to its previous behavior, the zeal with which the public is shielded from any potential attacks, and the frequency and damage done by the animal when those safeguards fail. Since society as a whole has made the determination that having dogs around is an important part of life, the law has to strike a careful balance between keeping what is, at times, a dangerous, territorial animal among humanity and protecting the innocent from what happens when things go wrong.
As a result, dog bite injury cases often require careful research and well-reasoned legal arguments in order to determine whether a dog bite is incidental to its mission in life, namely to be both companion and guardian to its owners, or an expression of its inherent unsuitability to serve reliably in the roles of protector and pet. In either case, the unfortunate victim of the attack is certainly entitled to compensation, but the human liability equation is not an automatic presumption.
Absent a finding of neglect or mismanagement, the just compensation due to someone who has been attacked may never be properly attained. In this regard, a skilled personal injury attorney who is fully conversant in the nuances of Washington dog bite laws is essential to a proper adjudication of the claim.