There are risks to owning or caring for dogs. Washington law has grown more strict toward dog owners over the years, and persons should recognize and protect against these risks.
Washington previously followed the common law rule for dog liability. The law presumed every dog friendly, and dog owners were liable only when the owners had advance notice their dogs were disposed to bite or otherwise harm persons.
In legalese, an owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog, who knows or reasonably should know the dog has vicious or dangerous propensities likely to cause the injury complained of, is liable for such injury regardless of any negligence.
The Washington State Legislature, in RCW 16.08.040, changed Washington law. State law now imposes strict liability on dog owners, even when the owners have no advance notice or knowledge of their dogs’ vicious or dangerous propensities.
The statute reads: “The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
RCW 16.08.040 limits strict liability to dog owners. It does not impose strict liability on the keeper or harborer of another’s dog (i.e. a dog sitter). Persons caring for another’s dog remain liable under the common law rule, which requires the caregiver’s advance notice or knowledge of a dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities.
It addition to taking precautions to prevent one’s dog from biting or causing other injury (e.g. a fenced yard, training, a leash), a dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy may provide some piece of mind.
According to Jeff Rounds of Libke Insurance, a standard homeowner’s policy typically covers dog bites, even when the dog is away from home, anywhere in the United States. For example, a homeowner’s policy should protect a dog owner while the dog is at home, at the park, or at another location inside the United States.
But, most homeowner’s policies have breed exclusions. “Insurance companies keep vicious dog lists, and may not insure certain breeds. There are solutions for persons owning excluded breeds. These products tend to be special dog bite insurance policies. The products insure owners for dogs that happen to be on the naughty list,” Rounds said.
Brian A. Walker represents businesses and individuals in commercial, business, employment, and real estate related litigation and transactions from the Wenatchee office of Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC.