OLYMPIA, Wash. -

The Washington Supreme Court has narrowly rejected a claim by a Tumwater police officer who was badly injured when he was bitten by a Thurston County Sheriff's Office dog.
Typically the owners of a dog are automatically liable for bites caused by their pet. The exception is for police departments engaged in the lawful use of a K9.
Tumwater Officer Bryent Finch was searching for a burglary suspect in the shuttered Olympia Brewery building in 2010, joined by a Thurston County sheriff's office dog handler. After the dog found the suspect, it bit Finch in the groin, causing a severe injury.
In a 5-4 decision, the court held that Thurston County is not automatically liable because the use of the dog was lawful -- the animal was on-duty with a trained handler. The minority argued that it was not clear that the use was lawful, in part because the dog was not following its handler's commands. The minority would have sent the case back to superior court for further findings.