What Happens if I’m Bitten by a Service Dog?
In Washington State, dogs, with limited exceptions, are strictly liable for any injuries or deaths they cause. Dog bites can cause infections, puncture wounds, rashes, scarring, and facial disfigurement. Young children are especially likely to be bitten because they don’t appreciate how dangerous a dog can be. Postal workers and anyone who is surprised by a dog are likely to be bitten too.
There is no requirement to show that a dog had a propensity to bite. There is no need to prove fault. A dog owner is liable for the victim’s medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. If a loved one dies due to a dog bite, the family can file a wrongful death and survival action against the dog owners.
Generally, in Washington, a dog bite victim, the parents of a child who is bitten, or the family of someone who dies due to a dog bite can file a claim against the owner of the dog. There are, however, exceptions for police dogs.
What are the Washington laws on dog bites?
Washington’s dog bite law provides:
(1) 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.
(2) This section does not apply to the lawful application of a police dog, as defined in RCW 4.24.410.
A police dog, under RCW 4.24.210, is defined as “a dog used by a law enforcement agency specially trained for law enforcement work and under the control of a dog handler.” A dog handler is a law enforcement officer, properly trained by the Washington State criminal justice system. Dog handlers are immune from civil claims for damages that arise from the use of the police dog.
The immunity protection also applies to the handlers of “accelerant detection dogs.” These dogs are used by the state fire marshal or a fire department for accelerant detection.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and service dogs
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates the education required for a dog to become a service dog, the obligations of businesses to permit people with service dogs to use the business’ facilities, and many other rights. The federal ADA applies to all businesses and organizations open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, grocery stores, hospitals, theaters, parks, medical offices, and zoos.
- The property owners can ask the person using the dog whether their dog is a service dog. The owner cannot inquire about the person’s disability.
- A person who has an emotional support animal (ESA) must “produce a letter from a licensed mental health professional that prescribes the need for the animal when a business asks for it.”
- A business can’t ask the person with a disability to remove the dog unless:
- “The animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it.” For example, an owner whose dog barks constantly while people are eating could be asked to leave.
- The animal “poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
- A business is not required to feed or care for a service animal or provide a special place for the dog to relieve itself.
Generally, that the owner or others have allergies or are afraid of dogs is not a proper reason for asking the owner and service animal to leave. Hospitals and medical practices can, however, require that service dogs be kept out of operating rooms and other sterile locations.
Businesses cannot ask that a service dog wear a vest or some insignia to indicate the dog is a service dog. Businesses cannot ask for certification documents or ID cards. Under Washington State law, a business can exclude a service dog under certain conditions; we recommend reading those conditions in full here.
Service dogs compared to emotional support dogs
According to Assistance Dogs of America, service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs can help people with disabilities. This includes people with impaired vision, impaired hearing, diabetes, heart disease, head trauma, cerebral palsy, and many other disabilities. The ADA and Fair Housing laws provide limited rights to emotional support animals (ESAs). For example, landlords do need to make reasonable accommodations for tenants and applicants who have an ESA.
Is the owner liable if a service dog or emotional service animal bites someone?
According to Washington state law, dog owners are strictly liable for bites – even when they are helping support the owner. The ADA does not provide any exceptions.
As a practical matter, service dogs must undergo strict training. It is rare, though not impossible, for a service dog to bite someone. Emotional support animals do not require training and thus may be more likely to bite someone than a service dog.
At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA dog bite injury lawyers understand how traumatic dog bites are. It doesn’t matter that the dog that bit you is normally a nice dog, a friendly dog, or a supportive dog. Just one bite can cause diseases, permanent injuries, or death. Victims deserve to be compensated for their injuries. Dog owners, even owners of service dogs and emotional support dogs, should ensure that their dogs are trained not to bite. To discuss any injuries that occur while on the property of another, call our attorneys in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can phone us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent children and parents on a contingency fee basis.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.