Washington appeals court says Pierce County “dangerous dog” policy unconstitutional

A Washington State Appeals Court has ruled that Pierce County cannot require owners of dogs that animal control officers have deemed to be “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous” to pay fees to appeal the county’s ruling on their dog.

Pierce County constructed an animal control ordinance that allowed them to deem any dog a “dangerous animal” if the dog:

  • bit a person without provocation
  • injured or killed another animal without provocation
  • has previously been found to be potentially dangerous and the owner was previously warned of the animal being aggressive and a danger to human or other animals.

If an owner wanted to appeal the county’s decision, they were required to pay fees for appeal hearings upwards of $500.

A dangerous dog designation requires owners to purchase a $250 permit and buy $25,000 in insurance that allows them to keep a dangerous dog.

The case came before the appeals after one dog owner, Heidi Downey, appealed the ruling that her dog was dangerous after it injured another dog that had to be put to sleep. Downey was required to pay $125 of an initial hearing on the ruling and another $250 for a hearing before an examiner.

The appeals court found that requiring owners to pay such stiff fees to get a hearing is tantamount to “purchasing justice” and that the fees denied owners due process.

Due process is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and it balances the rule of law with an individual’s rights. Due process allows all people to have access to the judicial system regardless of their financial status.

Pierce County argued that without fees that some owners may have “frivolous appeals”. The court, however, felt that dog owners were legally entitled to a hearing before they were deprived of their property.

According to the Centers for Disease Control approximately 4.5 million people suffer dog bites every year and 31,000 people are so severely bitten or injured that they require surgery. In addition, approximately 16 people are killed ever year because of a dog attack.

Washington state does have a dog bite law, RCW 16.08.040 which states that the owner of a dog that injures another person, regardless of whether the dog was previously declared dangerous, to be liable for the injuries to the dog bite victim.

This information is provided by Washington Injury Attorney blog, a service of The Farber Law Group, a Seattle dog bit lawyer. We represent people who have suffered serious dog bite injures. With our help, you may recover compensation for your damages.

Source: Pierce County’s dangerous-dog policy unconstitutional, judge rules, The Tacoma News Tribune, 12/04/11

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Contact The Farber Law Group at 1-800-244-9087 or attorney@hgfarber.com to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation. We have offices in Bellevue to assist you.