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Washington Passes Law to Protect State From Dog Bite Victims

Strict liability just got stricter in Washington State. That is to say, when it comes to law enforcement, Washington has just passed a law making it much harder to sue if you're ever bitten by a police dog.

Like California and most states, Washington's dog bite law sets up a "strict liability" standard for dog owners. What that means is that the dog owner is essentially the insurer of the dog and must be vigilant to prevent injuries. In other words, whether your dog has ever bitten anyone before or not, and regardless of whether you were negligent, if your dog bites someone, you're legally responsible for their injuries and damages.

At least, our northern neighbor's law did have a strict liability standard for all dog owners -- but it has just changed that in regard to police dogs. Based on apparent rumors of lawsuit abuse, lawmakers decided to require plaintiffs to prove that law enforcement personnel were negligent in order to pursue a dog bite claim.

The state senate sponsor of the bill claims there is a "cottage industry that's popping up, where criminals can sit in jails and write frivolous lawsuits against municipalities because police dogs are labeled vicious animals for the job we ask them to do."

But is that true? Not according to the Seattle Times. Their reporters reviewed dog bite claims reported to municipal insurance companies and risk management officers in more than 100 cities and counties in the state to find out just how much the state was spending on dog bite claims by people who had been bitten in the course of their own arrests.

The reporters' exhaustive search turned up a total of three such claims in the last five years. These three lone men had been arrested and later brought successful claims against law enforcement for injuries from police dogs. The total in damages they received? $46,455.

In contrast, one county has paid a total of $600,000 in dog bite settlements over the last three years -- but virtually all of those claims were from innocent bystanders.

Yes, dog bites can produce serious injuries and expensive compensation claims. But does that really make it fair to make it harder for dog bite victims to get reimbursed for their injuries?

Source: The Seattle Times, "Lawsuits over K-9 bites now harder to win," Mike Carter, March 2, 2013

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