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Washington Dog Bite Laws

The dog looked friendly, but then it lowered its shoulders and started growling as you walked down the sidewalk, minding your own business. You stopped walking and considered crossing the street but it was too late; the dog ran toward you and promptly clenched its jaws onto your arm, causing a painful laceration that would require stitches. The owner, who was nearby but unable to stop their dog from attacking, seemed genuinely shocked and surprised.

Even though neither party was negligent, the owner is strictly liable for your injuries in Washington State. Learn about this and other aspects of Washington dog bite laws in the sections below.

Liability for Washington Dog Bites

Washington State recognizes strict liability for dog bites, but not other types of dog-related injuries. So while a bite causing injury will give rise to a strict liability claim, the owner of a dog that knocks over a toddler and breaks the child's arm would have to be proven negligent in order for the toddler's family to collect. About half of the states have a so-called "one-bite" rule, where the dog's owner is held strictly liable for bite injuries only after a previous incident.

Washington Dog Bite Laws: The Basics

Dog attacks can be quite traumatic and often require immediate medical attention. The last thing you have time or patience for is trying to read dense statutory language. The following summary of Washington State's dog bite laws will help you cut through the legalese and get a better understanding of the law.


Washington Revised Code: Title 16, Section 16.08.010, et seq.

Strict Liability for Dog Bites

Owners/keepers are strictly liable for dog bite injuries (this excludes non-bite injuries) if:

  • The injured person is in a public place or a private place where they have permission; and
  • The injured person didn't provoke the dog.

Similarly, owners/keepers also are strictly liable to the owner of any animal killed or injured by their dog.

Negligence Claims for Careless Dog Owners

Owners/keepers whose dogs (or other domesticated animals) cause injuries that aren't bite-related to others may be sued if the plaintiff can prove the owner/keeper of the animal was negligent.

Statutory Definition of "Dangerous" Dog

Any dog that:

  • Inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property;
  • Kills a domestic animal without provocation while the dog is off the owner's property; or
  • Has been previously found to be potentially dangerous because of injury inflicted on a human, the owner having received notice of such and the dog again aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans.
Statutory Definition of "Potentially Dangerous" Dog

Any dog that when unprovoked:

  • Bites a human or domestic animal either on public or private property; or
  • Chases or approaches a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, or any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or to cause injury or otherwise to threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals.
Dogs and Livestock

State law permits owners/keepers of livestock (i.e. sheep, poultry, swine) to kill any dogs found chasing, biting, injuring, or killing their livestock.

Owners who are warned about such behavior of their dog(s) must keep them on a leash or otherwise confined; owner of livestock may kill such dogs if the dog owner fails to confine their dog.

Owners of dogs who are warned about such behavior (chasing, biting, injuring livestock) but fail to confine their dog(s) within 48 hours of the warning may be charged with a misdemeanor and their dog may be killed by the sheriff or deputy sheriff.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims
  • The injured person provoked the dog
  • The injured person was trespassing
Time Limit for Filing Claim

3 years (Washington Civil Statute of Limitations) for personal injury and injury to personal property claims.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • Washington Code - FindLaw's hosted version of the Revised Code of Washington and Constitution.
  • Washington Laws - FindLaw's summaries of select Washington laws, including criminal, injury, employment, family, and small business laws.

Washington Dog Bites: Related Resources

Need to File a Dog Bite Claim in Washington State? An Attorney Can Help

If you were bitten by someone else's dog, and you were neither trespassing nor provoked the animal, you may be able to recover for your injuries. Since Washington is a strict liability state, you don't have to show that the dog was previously known to be vicious. Learn more about the merits of your case and your legal options by speaking with a Washington animal bite injury attorney near you today.

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