Washington law says that dog owners are liable for any injuries that their dog causes to another person via a dog bite. While the law might be clear on a dog biting another person, things get a little less direct when a dog bites another dog. Here, an analysis of the specific facts of every case will often be needed to determine which owner bears responsibility.
What is a Dog Owner’s Legal Duty?
Dog owners generally have a legal duty to prevent their dog from:
- Hurting another person, or
- Damaging personal property.
Now granted, while many of us love our pets and consider them more than property, legally speaking, animals (including dogs and cats) are just that. This means that if a dog just sprints towards another dog and bites it, the owner of the aggressor dog will bear responsibility for any injuries to the unprovoked animal. That owner’s pet damaged another person’s property.
What About Sudden Attacks?
If two dogs get into a fight, the majority of the cases are not as straightforward as one dog charging or pouncing on another. The typical scuffle occurs with two dogs suddenly snapping at one another. When this occurs, the specific facts of these cases will help determine liability.
The location of the dog fight can play a critical fact in every case. The same holds true for whether a dog was “invited” on another dog owner’s property. Consider, for example, a case where John owns a black Labrador and Lisa owns a Rottweiler. John and Lisa live in the same neighborhood but don’t really know each other that well.
Assume John is in his yard playing with the Lab and Lisa has her dog out on a walk. The Rottweiler quickly runs into John’s yard and begins biting the Labrador. Here, Lisa would be liable for any injuries caused to John’s dog. The facts that the attack occurred on John’s property and that the Rottweiler was not invited onto that property place the blame in her direction.
Other facts that may help determine liability include whether:
- An animal in the fight was considered a dangerous breed of dog (e.g., a Pitbull),
- A dog involved had a history of violence, fighting, or biting (either another dog or a person),
- A dog was running loose as opposed to on a leash.
All of these facts tend to shift responsibility onto that dog’s owner.
What About When an Attack goes Unseen?
Dog fights often begin out of the dog owners’ sites. The facts will still help determine liability, but an issue will be trying to gather them. Evidence is required to help re-enact how the melee began.
Critical evidence that may help determine liability in these cases include:
- Video footage (if, for example, a fight was captured on a security camera),
- Witness statements, and
- The positioning of the dogs when the owners discovered they were fighting.
Can a Dog Owner File a Homeowners Insurance Claim?
Injuries and property damage caused by a dog are usually covered under the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. This means that the owner of a dog that has been injured in a dog fight can file a claim with the other owner’s insurance. This even holds true if the policyholder’s dog caused injuries or damage away from his or her home. If for some reason the insurer does not cover the dog, then the owner of the injured dog would have to seek compensation directly from the owner of the aggressor dog.
If the latter is the case, please know that it is critical to contact an experienced personal injury attorney for help. Also know that Otorowski Morrow & Golden, PLLC is here to stand by your side. Their attorneys are tireless in their efforts and passionate in their representation. These legal professionals also have over 120 years of combined experience in assisting injured parties. Do yourself a favor and contact them now!