A dog attack can be life-changing for the victim. In some cases, dogs have actually caused fatal injuries to humans. Even when a dog attack is not deadly, dog bite incidents can be disfiguring and extremely frightening. Plastic surgery may be required after a dog attack occurs, and bit victims face the risk of permanent scarring. Depending upon whether or not the dog has been appropriately vaccinated, the risk of rabies is also a fear for bite victims. Victims of dog bites, many of them children, regularly experience ongoing emotional trauma as a result of the bite incident, especially if the dog attack was a serious one.
Coping with the emotional aftermath can be very difficult as a patient struggles with the physical pain caused by the bite and tries to obtain health services to avoid scarring and permanent injury.
When a dog bite has occurred and has caused harm, the bite victim should not have to pay for the costs of necessary medical care. The dog's owner can typically be held legally responsible for the damage that the dog has caused to the bite victim.
Washington law is very protective of the rights of dog bite victims. RCW 16.08.040 states that: "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."
The law mandates that there is no need for a bite victim to prove that the dog's owner was negligent in allowing the bite to occur. The victim also does not have to prove that the owner of the dog was aware of the animal's propensity to bite people. It does not matter if the dog had ever been aggressive before. If the dog caused harm to someone who was lawfully in a public place, then the owner of the dog has to try to make things right by paying for damages.
This rule is different than the rules in some other states, which will not impose automatic liability on every owner unless the dog has shown a propensity to be vicious. Those other states with the more lax laws for dog owners are sometimes called "one-free bite" states. Washington does not have this rule, so victims are better protected in case of an attack.