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‘Beware of Dog’ Signs: Do They Protect Owners From Liability?

Colburn Law

In Washington, many dog owners hang ‘Beware of Dog’ signs on their properties and mistakenly believe that the sign will protect their interests if their dog bites someone. While this type of sign can deter criminals and warn visitors to take caution, it will not protect owners from liability in most cases. 

Liability for Dog Bites in Washington

When it comes to liability for dog bites, states typically follow one of two types of laws: strict liability and the one-bite rule. Under the one-bite rule, a dog owner is only liable for an injury if the dog has a previous history of bites. In these states, the first bite is essentially free from liability.

Washington follows a strict liability standard. According to the Revised Code of Washington section 16.08.040, owners are liable if their dog bites anyone who is in public or lawfully on private property. The victim has the right to pursue a claim against the owner regardless of negligence or a previous history of bites.

‘Beware of Dog’ Signs and Owner Liability

Beware of Dog Signs and Owner Liability

In most cases, a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign will not protect an owner from liability. If a person lawfully visits the owner’s property and the dog attacks him or her. In fact, posting this type of sign could be an admission of a dog’s dangerous or aggressive nature.

In order to avoid liability, the owner will need to prove that the victim was illegally on his or her property. The victim must be trespassing or committing a crime at the time of the incident. If the owner invited the victim onto the property, he or she cannot invoke this defense.

Another way that an owner could defend himself or herself is to claim that the victim provoked the dog. According to the Revised Code of Washington 16.08.060, a dog owner can escape liability if he or she provides sufficient evidence showing that the victim provoked the attack. 

What to Do If You Are Bitten by a Dog on Someone’s Property

If you are visiting another person’s home and he or she has a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign, it is important to be cautious. However, dangerous incidents can happen when an aggressive animal is around. 

If you are bitten by a dog on someone else’s property, remain calm. Take the following steps to seek help and collect evidence for your future case.

  • Seek medical attention right away. If possible, get someone to wash the wound with warm water and soap, apply an antibacterial ointment, and dress the bite in clean bandages. Visit the hospital for emergency medical treatment.
  • Document evidence and gather information. Take photographs of your injuries, the animal, and the area where the attack occurred. Exchange information with the animal’s owner and any witnesses who saw the attack.
  • File a report with your county animal control agency. The agency may investigate the incident, which could support your future case. 

After you seek medical care for your injuries, speak to a Washington dog bite lawyer as soon as possible. An Seattle personal injury attorney can represent your claim against the animal’s owner and help you secure the compensation that you need to recover.