Seattle Broadens Definition of Dangerous Dog

Dogs that attack are more likely to be banished or destroyed after the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance broadening the definition of what constitutes a “dangerous animal.” 

The ordinance passed on June 27, 2011, in response to a hearing examiner’s decision earlier this year involving a Madison Park pit bull that attacked and bit three people in less than an hour.  Seattle Animal Control declared the pit bull dangerous and ordered it be destroyed.  However, the hearing examiner reversed the order on the basis that the pit bull did not inflict enough damage to qualify as a “dangerous animal” under Seattle’s narrow law. 

Under the former law, a “dangerous animal” was one that inflicted a “severe injury.”  The term “severe injury” was previously defined as death, multiple broken bones, or multiple disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.  The victims of last year’s pit bull attack did not suffer injuries which were “severe” according to the city ordinance..  

In response to that decision, the Seattle City Council recently changed and broadened the definition of “severe injury” to require only one broken bone, or one disfiguring wound (including lacerations or punctures, avulsions or cuts) that requires medical attention such as sutures, steri strips or staples. 

This new definition now makes it much easier to prove that a dog attack as resulted in a “serious injury.”  However, the law still requires that the victim’s injury require medical attention.  Thus, if there is no medical treatment then the injury cannot be declared serious enough to allow the dog to be euthanized or banned from city limits. 

The problem of insurance however still persists in cases involving dog bites and attacks.  Currently, the law only requires a dog owner to carry insurance for injuries the dog may inflict on people if that dog has already been deemed by local authorities as a “dangerous dog” or if the dog has been registered as an attack animal or guard dog per city ordinance.

However, more than 99% of all dog bite claims in Washington are committed by dogs that are not designated as dangerous nor registered as an attack dog under the current laws.  

The most vulnerable are children, who are victims of dog bites or attacks in at least 75-80% of reported cases nationwide. 

In most cases involving dog bites or attacks, the dog owner does not have any insurance to pay for the victim’s past and future medical bills and lost wages caused by the attack.  In many cases the dog bite victim is left with thousands of dollars in unpaid hospital and doctor bills.  In some cases these medical bills can easily be in the low to high five figure range ($25,000 to $50,000), where the injuries produce permanent scarring and disfigurement.

Pursuing a legal case against a dog owner that does not have insurance may be challenging if not pointless.  Usually a judgment or jury verdict obtained will be essentially worthless because the dog owner is often incapable of paying or the owner can avoid the judgment entirely by filing for bankruptcy protection. 

Although the City’s revision of the dangerous dog ordinance should be applauded, there should still be a greater effort to hold irresponsible dog owners financially responsible for the injuries their dogs inflict on innocent people.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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