Dog Bite Lawyer in Washington, DC

Victims of dog bites in DC are entitled to seek compensation under the policies of intentional tort, scienter, and negligence with the assistance of a dog bite lawyer. The District of Columbia tends to have a diverse jurisdiction, and there is not a dog bite statute. However, a victim does not have to prove scienter if he or she is bitten by a dog while the dog is at large and if it is at large due to the owner’s negligence.

An Overview of Laws and Dog Bites in DC

There are two statutes in the District of Columbia that eliminate the requirement of scienter in a specific set of circumstances, such as where the dog that attacked a person was at large due to owner negligence. The two statutes can be found under sections 8-1808 and 1-1812, as we discuss below. Besides those sections, a victim is required to prove an intentional tort, scienter, or negligence. D.C. falls within a contributory negligence state, which means that a victim who is negligent is barred from attempting to recover compensation for a dog bite. The dog bite lawyer at Ashcraft & Gerel will discuss the statutes of dog bite law with you and help you determine if you have a case.

Dog-Bite Statutes in the District of Columbia

Under section 8-1801(a)(1)(a), the term “at large” is defined as any animal found off its owner’s premises that is neither leashed or under the immediate control of a capable person who is able to restrain it.  Section 8-1808 sets out that no dog owner will allow their animal to go at large, and section 8-1812 states that if a dog injures someone while it is at large, the fact that the owner lacks knowledge of the dog’s vicious tendencies will not absolve him or her from a finding of negligence.

In DC it is held that if a dog bites a person while it is at large, the violation of section 8-1808 is not negligence per se, but rather only evidence of the negligence. In the example of the case, Chadbourne v. Kappaz, the court approved the trial court’s instruction to the jury. The instruction was that an owner allows his or her animals to go at large if:

  • He or she intentionally allows the animal to do so
  • Fails to exercise due care in keeping the animal from going at large

In terms of determining the care required, the jury was instructed to consider the dog’s propensities that are known to the owner.

Therefore, D.C.’s statutes create one exception to the one bite rule: a victim does not have to prove scienter if he or she is bitten by a dog while the dog is at large and is at large as a result of the owner’s negligence.

Dog Owner Negligence

In terms of dog bites in D.C., negligence is considered a lack of ordinary care. In other words, the absence of the type of care that a reasonably careful person would exercise under similar circumstances. If a dog owner’s conduct in a given situation does not measure up to the conduct of an otherwise careful individual, the person is considered negligent. For instance, allowing a stray dog into a children’s day care center is negligent. In the District of Columbia, negligence that leads to a dog attack renders the negligent party legally liable for the victim’s compensation, so long as the victim is blameless.


Scienter is a traditional doctrine that renders a person liable for any harm inflicted by a domestic pet. Scienter is the Latin word for “knowingly,” and also refers to the one bite rule and common law strict liability. This law applies to dog bites in that a victim may recover compensation from the dog owner, keeper, or harborer if the dog has previously bit a person or acted as though it wanted to, and the owner was aware of the previous conduct.

Scienter has evolved from the notion that when an animal of a typically harmless species, such as a dog, commits harm or damage, the owner will not be held liable unless the owner is actually aware of the animal’s dangerous nature. Also, owners may assume that their domestic animal will behave accordingly. But, if the animal is considered to be “ferae naturae,” or rather, an animal that because of its species is usually dangerous, the owner has an obligation to keep the dog under control and will not get “one free bite.”

This common law doctrine of Scienter, therefore, imposes liability for harm inflicted by a domestic pet. In terms of dog bites, the doctrine of scienter enables a dog bite victim to recover compensation from the keeper or owner of the dog who is aware that the dog has previously bitten someone with the help of a dog bite lawyer. Scienter is actually a ground for liability in every U.S. state, and it may impose liability on someone other than the dog’s owner.

Contributory Negligence

The District of Columbia tends to be somewhat unkind to accident victims overall, and there is no exception to victims of dog bites and attacks. The capital tends to adhere to the rather ancient doctrine of contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, victims may not receive any compensation if his or her conduct caused the accident, no matter how insignificant that conduct was. In other states, the doctrine of comparative fault is adopted, which compares the victim’s legal responsibility to that of other parties, and rewards compensation to victims in direct proportion to that comparative responsibility.

Dog Bites and the One Bite Rule in the District of Columbia

In the capital, a person who is bitten by a dog can bring a lawsuit against the owner of the dog regardless of whether or not the dog was at large at the time of the bite. If the dog was at large, the victim could bring a negligence claim. However, if the dog was not at large, the victim can bring the claim under the district’s one bite rule.

The District’s courts hold that the statute requires an injured person to at least establish the owner’s negligence. The victim has to show that the dog owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the bite; however, if the victim was bitten while the dog was not at large, for example, if the dog was leashed or on its owner’s property, the victim has to prove owner negligence. This applies not only in cases where the owner is careless, but also that the owner was aware of the dog’s vicious tendencies. Commonly, this rule is referred to as the one bite rule, and it has proved rather controversial.

Dog Bites and Criminal Liability in Washington DC

One particular way that a victim can prove vicious tendencies in a civil lawsuit is by showing that the dog has been classified as potentially dangerous or dangerous as set out under the District of Columbia’s laws with the help of a dog bite lawyer. Owners of potentially dangerous or dangerous dog breeds are legally required to meet a higher standard for registering, keeping and restraining their dogs. Otherwise, they may face criminal penalties if they fail to do so.

Under the district’s code of Section 8-1906, it is stated that a dog owner who has a potentially dangerous or dangerous dog who does not meet their responsibilities under the code, can be convicted of a misdemeanor and incur a maximum penalty of $500 as well as up to 90 days imprisonment for their first offense, and up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for a second offense.

Since civil and criminal cases operate somewhat differently in the District of Columbia, a dog owner can face both civil liability and criminal penalties concurrently if their dog bites another person.

A civil claim in the district can be directly filed by the victim who is seeking monetary damages for lost wages, medical bills, and any pain and suffering incurred. The district may further fine a dog owner up the amount of $10,000 if a dog is potentially dangerous or dangerous and it causes serious injury or death. The Fine or punishment is typically assessed over and above any other financial damages awarded in a civil lawsuit.

How to Prevent a Dog from Biting Someone

Dog bites, as any owner should be aware of, can result in expensive lawsuits and insurance claims. However, multiple measures can be taken to prevent a dog from biting, such as:

  • Keeping the dog healthy, well exercised, and well-fed so that it is less likely to have behavior problems like biting.
  • Neutering or spaying the dogs. Male dogs have a propensity to roam and are far more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors than those who are neutered. Female dogs may be aggressive during their reproductive cycle if they are not spayed.
  • Dogs should be supervised when outside and kept on a lead and under control at all times, and muzzled if considered a dangerous dog breed.
  • The law requires dogs to be leashed to prevent them from approaching other people and animals.
  • Some dogs bite due to fear, so it is important to socialize a dog and teach it how to interact with humans and animals alike from as early on as possible.
  • Try to never leave young children unattended with dogs, even if they are familiar with one another.
  • Children tend to scurry about and move quickly, which may excite the dog into biting or attacking.

What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone in Washington DC?

If your dog does bite someone, the first step is to control and secure the dog. The bite victim could be afraid of the dog, and the dog may be over-excited. Be sure to give your name and contact details to the bite victim. You may also be required to show proof of the dog’s vaccinations, so be sure to keep those up to date and the information at hand. The incident should be reported to animal control.

The District of Columbia and Dog Quarantine

Quarantine does not mean that a dog will be taken away from the owner or killed. However, the District of Columbia requires owners to keep their dogs under quarantine by keeping them to the property for ten days. If the dog remains healthy during that time frame, the bite victim will not be required to have a rabies injection, and the dog will be released from its quarantine. However, if the dog falls ill or is lost, Animal Control must be notified immediately. The total number of days that a dog is quarantined will depend on what it bites and whether or not its vaccinations are up to date. Such responsibility falls under the owner’s legal duty of care.

What to Do If You Are Bitten By a Dog in DC?

If you are the victim of a dog bite, it is important not to risk any further injury.

  • Ask the owner for their name and contact details and try to remember the dog’s description.
  • Wash the wound for a few minutes with soap and water.
  • Report the dog bite to animal control.
  • Get medical attention from the closest emergency facility or doctor.
  • Contact an experienced dog bite lawyer.

If you feel threatened by any dog, try to avoid shouting and remain calm. You should stand still and not run away or turn. When the dog leaves, you should calmly back away, but if you fall, curl into a ball and use your hands to protect your neck and head.

Dog bites in D.C. actually have Dangerous Dog Statutes that place restrictions on dogs that have attacked or bitten people or other animals without provocation. Be sure to educate yourself about the law and, if needed, talk to an experienced dog bite lawyer.

Any dog can bite, it is up to the owner to practice their duty of care to keep other people safe.

Do You Need a Dog Bite Lawyer in DC?

Whether you have been hurt by a dog bite or you are the owner of a dog that has bitten someone, the experienced dog bite lawyer at Ashcraft & Gerel will help to defend your case. Call to schedule a complimentary consultation with our dog bite lawyer today.


1825 K St NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20006



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