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Is a dog owner in Washington legally responsible for injuries caused when their pooch bites someone?  Because of Washington’s dog bite statute, the answer is usually an easy yes.

However, it’s often not that simple. Over the years I’ve run across some less clear-cut situations involving animal attacks. What if the animal in question is not a dog? What if it is a dog, but the purported owner just got it the day before from a rescue organization and is simply trying out the fit? Washington law is not 100% clear on what the outcome would be in every such situation, but has some helpful case law to guide the practitioner.

The important thing to note is that at common law an owner, keeper, or harborer of an animal who knows or should know of its dangerous propensities and that it is likely to cause injury is liable, regardless of whether that person was negligent. This means you don’t need to be the legal owner of the animal to be responsible, if you know it is dangerous, if you are harboring it in some way. Harboring has been defined in the law as protecting. The lesson is be careful of feeding strays of any type, I suppose.

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About the Author

Scott A. Staples

Scott Staples came on board in 2006 as a clerk during law school, and joined the firm as an associate attorney in 2007. He was made a shareholder in the firm in 2010. Scott graduated, cum laude, from Washington State University Vancouver with a BA in English, and obtained his Juris Doctorate from Willamette University College of Law, with cum laude honors there as well. He has successfully represented clients in a variety of different types of injury cases, including auto collisions, premises liability, animal attacks, watercraft accidents, and construction site injuries. He has appeared, and won, before the Washington State Supreme Court (Weismann v. Safeco, 2012).

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