Sue lives in Pierce County with her service dog Misty. Sue often left her sliding glass door open so Misty could come and go with a neighbor’s dog, named Romeo.
Neighbors Shelly and her house-guest owned a pit bull named Betty, and Betty’s mixed-bred offspring, Tank. Betty and Tank were the subjects of several complaints around the neighborhood. Betty, sometimes with and sometimes without Tank, had allegedly menaced neighbors. The dogs on one occasion confronted neighbors in their own yard, so that they could not leave their house for about 90 minutes until animal control agents arrived. On another occasion, Betty chased a child on rollerblades and a neighbor called animal control.
Betty on one occasion chased Misty into Sue’s house, and jumped aggressively at the sliding glass door. Sue called animal control. Betty had left by the time animal control arrived.
One morning Sue awoke to Betty and Tank’s snarling. The dogs had entered through the sliding glass door Sue had left open for the night. Misty ran out of the bedroom. Betty and Tank jumped on the bed and bit Sue’s left arm. They then attacked Romeo.
Sue tried to protect Romeo. Betty and Tank mauled Sue, and bit both her hands. She was able to separate Romeo in a closet. Meanwhile, the dogs bit Sue’s face, breasts, and hands. Tank forced the closet door open. Betty and Tank then killed Romeo.
Sue left the house and called 911. Eventually, each dog was euthanized. The dog’s owners plead guilty to criminal charges and admitted civil liability.
Pierce County denied liability and the case against Pierce County went to a jury trial. The jury found Pierce County 42 percent at fault, the dog owner 52 percent at fault, and Sue 1 percent at fault.
Pierce County appealed, arguing it was not liable because it owed no duty to protect Sue from a neighbor’s dog. Sue appealed the one-percent fault against her.
Under the public duty doctrine, Pierce County does not owe the general public a duty of care, and can only be liable if there is a duty owed to Sue individually. The Court of Appeals held that the failure to enforce exception applied, and because of language in a Pierce County ordinance mandating that the County “shall classify potentially dangerous dogs” under circumstances such as in this case.
The Court of Appeals also upheld the one-percent fault the jury imposed on Sue. The jury could so find based on the evidence presented that Sue left the sliding glass door open all night despite previous encounters with Betty trying aggressively to enter through it, and in trying to save Romeo despite the dogs having already bitten her left arm.
By personal injury attorney Travis Scott Eller
 Gorman v. Pierce County, ____ Wn.App. ____ (No. 42594-7-II August 13, 2013).