Does Seattle's Dangerous Dog Ordinance Have Any Real Teeth?
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," 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 multiple injuries.
The City Council's toughening of the law broadened the definition of "severe injury" to require only one broken bone, or one disfiguring wound that requires medical attention such as sutures, steri strips or staples. The expanded definition also includes permanent nerve damage.
Insurance Issues Left Unsolved by Seattle's New Dog Bite Ordinance
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." However, more than 99% of all dog bite claims in Washington are committed by dogs that are not designated as dangerous under the current law.
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).
Pursuing a legal case against a dog owner that does not have insurance is pointless. Any judgment or jury verdict obtained will be essentially worthless because the dog owner usually is incapable of paying or the owner can avoid the judgment entirely by filing for bankruptcy protection.
Although the City's change to the dangerous dog ordinance should be applauded, there should be a greater effort to hold irresponsible dog owners financially responsible for the injuries their dogs inflict on innocent people.