In the United States alone, approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur each year. The majority of bite victims were familiar with the dog, and the incident occurred either on the victim’s property or close by.
Liability. In Washington State, dog bites are a strict liability crime (RCW 16.08.040). For a strict liability crime, it is not necessary to prove that the defendant acted with negligence or recklessness. A dog bite victim only needs to show that his injury was proximately caused by the defendant’s conduct.
Strict Liability for Dog Bites. A dog owner is strictly liable for damages caused by the owner’s dog, so long as:
- The victim is in a public place, or
- The victim is lawfully in or on a private place, including the dog owner’s property, either through express or implied consent.
The dog owner is strictly liable regardless of whether or not the dog has displayed any previous aggression or if the dog owner was aware of the dog’s propensity to bite. Washington State does not allow the dog “one free dog bite” that some other states allow.
Negligence Suit for Dog Bites. In the event that the strict liability statute is not satisfied (e.g. the victim is not lawfully on the property where the dog bite occurred), there is still potential for a negligence lawsuit. A negligence cause of action arises when evidence can be shown that a dog owner: 1) knew of his dog’s propensity for violence; 2) failed to use reasonable care in controlling the animal to prevent injury; 3) the injury was reasonably foreseeable; and 4) the owner’s negligent conduct was the proximate cause of the injury.
Dog Bites and Children. The majority of dog bites that occur in the United States every year involve children. Statistically, children between the ages five and nine are at the highest risk, and half of all dog attacks involved children 12 years or younger. Of dog bites that required emergency room treatment, 82 percent involved children 15 years or younger. Of dog bite fatalities, 70 percent involved children 10 years or younger. More than half of injuries involving children were to the head, face and neck.
*The above statistics were obtained from the American Humane Society.
Settlement. Most homeowners insurance policies cover dog bites. In 2012, State Farm alone paid out more than $108 million as a result of dog bites. The insurance industry as a whole pays more than $1 billion annually.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2012. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $29,752 in 2012, up one percent from $29,396 in 2011. From 2003 to 2012, the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 55 percent. The number of claims dropped slightly to 16,459 in 2012 from 16,695 in 2011.
Dog bite victims can be compensated, not only for medical expenses, but for lost wages/earning capacity, and pain and suffering resulting from the bite.
Have questions about a potential dog bite claim? Contact us.