Share story

If your dog bites someone, under Washington law you are liable for any injuries, with few exceptions.

That concept, called “strict liability,” applied to pets and police dogs alike — until last June, when a law passed by the 2012 Legislature exempting the owners of police dogs from dog-bite liability went into effect.

Substitute House Bill 2191was sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who explained during a committee hearing that the proposed exemption was in response to 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.”

According to the lawyers of people who have been bitten by police K-9s, the law makes it more difficult for innocent victims to find justice.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Before, a city’s liability in such instances was assumed. Now it will be up to the victim to prove the bite resulted from some sort of negligence.

The author of the amendment was Craig Adams, who until last year was legal adviser to Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor. Adams said he’d been told that police “all over the state“ were being targeted with inmate dog-bite lawsuits. He said he could not recall who made the statement.

Pierce County has paid nearly $600,000 in K-9 dog-bite claims in the past three years — but almost all to innocent bystanders.

The Seattle Times reviewed five years of dog-bite claims turned in to the risk managers and insurers of the state and more than 100 Washington cities and counties. The search turned up only three payouts, totaling $46,455, to men who had been arrested and afterward filed claims alleging injuries from police dogs.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.