What to do if you are the victim of a dog bite

Feb 6, 2019, 8:33 AM | Updated: 3:38 pm

SPONSORED — Grumpy Cat is well-known as a meme, but there’s a reason there’s no Grumpy Dog: Dogs are famous for being happy, loyal and loving to their humans and pretty much everyone else.
But even the most docile dogs can sometimes bite — 800,000 people need medical treatment for dog bites every year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation — and the medical, legal and financial complications resulting from these incidents can cause costly headaches for everyone involved.

When dogs bite, victims may be left with significant injuries and a mountain of medical bills. And while many people know what to do after a car accident or other common injury, the steps to take after a dog bite are not so familiar. Understanding the legal issues that could arise will make a big difference in your financial future. Follow these steps if you are the victim of a dog bite.

Contact police and animal control

The first thing you should do after being bitten is contact the local police department and animal control unit. These officials are trained to deal with dangerous dogs, investigate the incident and take statements from the parties involved and any witnesses. The police also have the authority to help find and identify the dog’s caretaker if needed, information required if you end up filing an injury claim for damages.

Get immediate medical attention

No matter how small your injuries may seem, seek treatment for them. Before arriving at a health care provider, wash superficial wounds and apply antibiotic cream, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because they can easily become infected (almost 20 percent of dog bites become infected with bacteria). Apply pressure on wounds that are deeper.

Dog bites can also transmit rabies, MRSA, tetanus, pasteurella and Capnocytophaga bacteria. Rabies is one of the most common concerns after a bite; pets should be vaccinated against rabies, but if the dog that bit you isn’t found or wasn’t vaccinated, you may need to get a vaccination or other treatment for the disease right away.

Document the injury

It’s key for you (or your health care provider) to photograph your injuries, which can later be used as evidence if a personal injury claim needs to be filed. If possible, also document any effects of the injuries, such as pain, decreased mobility or mood swings.

Know what to expect from the law

It used to be that a bite victim could only recover damages if they could prove a person had prior knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or propensity to bite. Now, Washington state has a “dog bite statute,” which removes the requirement to prove a person had prior knowledge that a dog might bite.

The law holds people liable for any injuries or bites their dogs inflict on others. This means the person is liable for a dog bite injury even if the dog has never been aggressive or bitten another human.

In most situations, a homeowner’s insurance policy is the primary source of financial recovery for the injuries caused by a dog. The requirement is that the bite must have occurred on public property — or on private property with the property owner’s consent — and that the dog was not provoked. In other situations, people with dogs may be liable if it can be proved they knew their dog had aggressive or violent tendencies but failed to properly control or contain the dog.

“When the Dog Bites: The Essential Guide to Dog Bite Claims in Washington State” is part of a series of free legal guides written by attorney Chris Davis, the founder of Davis Law Group. The book explores the legal rights of dog bite victims, outlines the legal and settlement process for dog bite claims and answers common questions from people with dogs and from bite victims.

Order your free copy of the book from or by calling Davis Law Group’s office in Seattle at 206-727-4000.


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What to do if you are the victim of a dog bite