We all love our furry friends! For most of us, our pets are more than just pets; they’re companions and family members. Being a pet owner, however, comes with responsibilities. As a pet owner you are responsible for training, controlling, and overseeing your pet. But what if your pet hurt someone?
While we hope this day never comes, it’s an unfortunate reality that many pet owners go through. Dogs get off leash and chase another animal or person, horses get spooked and kick, buck, or step on someone, cats get picked up and scratch their way out. Whatever the incident, someone got hurt. Now what? Let’s dive into animal law.
If your pet hurt someone, the million-dollar question is one of liability. Establishing liability for when a pet hurts someone varies state by state. Some states have what’s called a “one-bite rule.” In the case of dogs, this gives the owner a reasonable window to correct their dog’s behavior: That window being the first bite. Any damage inflicted after the initial bite is considered negligence for which the owner can be held liable. Washington State is not among those that have the one-bite rule.
In Washington rules for pet owners are much stricter, making it easier for victims to successfully obtain compensation from you when your pet hurts them. In Washington State, the victim only needs to establish liability through two premises: (1) That they were in the place where the incident occurred, whether public or private, lawfully, and (2) that you were the person responsible for controlling the dog; whether owner or dog sitter. The plaintiff will look to prove both of these points are true in order to establish liability.
Animal injury claims can get spendy. Your best strategy to avoid personal liability in a pet injury case is to assign fault elsewhere. You can potentially avoid liability if you can make a successful case that the person injured was not supposed to be on the premises, was warned not to approach the animal in question and ignored the warnings, or provoked the animal. Establishing negligence in the injured party is the strongest and one of the only ways to avoid fault as the pet’s caretaker. Your attorney will help you with this.
Court-ordered euthanization after an injury claim is not common, and generally reserved for cases where the pet has rabies or some infectious disease that makes them a health risk, or for repeat offenders. If this is your pet’s first time involved in a lawsuit euthanasia is unlikely. However, as its caretaker, you should have a plan in place to improve training and security, and be able to assure the court and injured party that this will not happen again. If it does, it may be your beloved pet who pays the price the next time.
As the saying goes: “Lawyer-up!” If your pet hurt someone the best defense is an experienced attorney who can help you navigate this. Write down for best recollection any conditions you consider relevant in the incident to give to your lawyer. Finally, make a plan to work with your pet to prevent and mitigate any potential future incidents. If your pet hurt someone, what can you do to make sure they won’t do it again? If your cat scratched someone, did you communicate your cat’s fear of being held by strangers? Is your pet neutered or sprayed? Dogs and cats that have not been fixed are three times as likely to exhibit aggressive, violent behavior. Is your pet afraid? Fear is a leading cause of aggression in animals. Can you teach your pet not to be afraid in similar situations?
Remember that you are the only person your pet has to teach it right and wrong behavior, advocate for it, and care for it. It’s your responsibility to give it the best training to live a happy and comfortable life. If you don’t, no one will! After an incident, consider reaching out to a professional: talk to your vet or enroll in an animal training school. We love our furry companions; let’s do right by them.