What rights do you have if you are the victim of a dog bite?
In Texas, there is no direct civil statute on point that addresses an owner’s liability caused by their dog biting another person. However, Texas does follow common law negligence and strict liability laws and has county-wide “leash laws” which are designed to protect the public from dog attacks and prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies. In addition to leash laws, Texas also follows the “one-bite” rule. The saying goes, “every dog in Texas gets one free bite.” After the dog’s first bite or attack, the owner is said to be put on notice of his or her dog’s aggressive behavior and tendency to bite. This rule is not meant to be used as a free pass but rather is used to show that an owner whose dog has bitten someone in the past is more likely to be deemed negligent for failing to prevent a later bite.
What if the dog has never bitten anyone before?
There are also circumstances that can result in a dog owner being liable for a bite even if the dog has never bitten anyone before. In Texas, a victim of a dog bite or attack has a number of potential recourses to hold the owner or possessor of the biting animal liable. They include (1) strict liability, (2) negligence, and (3) negligence per se.
Under a strict liability theory, a victim of a dog bite does not have to show that the dog has previously bitten anyone. Instead, the victim can hold the owner or possessor liable if they can show that the dog has aggressive or dangerous tendencies and the owner or possessor knew or should have known, about the dog’s aggressive propensities.
Under a negligence principle, an owner or possessor of a dog may be subject to liability for the negligent handling of the dog. Thus, unlike strict liability and the “one-bite rule” discussed above, under a negligence principle, a victim does not need to show that the dog has previously bitten someone, nor do they have to prove that the owner/possessor had reason to know of the dog’s dangerous propensities. Instead, the dog bite victim only needs to show that the dog owner/handler failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring another person. In other words, the owner/handler must be shown to have failed to handle the dog in a reasonably prudent manner, and that such failure caused the victim’s injuries.
Similar to negligence principles, in Texas, the violation of an animal control law can result in the owner/handler of the animal being “negligent per se” regardless of whether or not the dog has previously bitten someone or was deemed to be dangerous or have violent tendencies. To prevail on a negligence per se claim, a victim of a dog bite must show that there was a violation of a statute or state/city ordinance and that the violation was the cause of the victim’s injuries. Examples include violation of a city leash law as discussed above or a state-wide Texas statute which can usually be found in the Texas Health and Safety Code.
Last, but certainly not least, similar to the liabilities that can be imposed against dog owners and possessors, property owners and landlords can be held liable for the acts of vicious dogs and animals on their property if they have actual knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensities and fail to rid the premises of the known dangerous animal.
If you or someone you love has been injured as a result of a dog bite or attack, contact an experienced attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz, and Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584 for a free consultation. The law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner is the longest-standing personal injury firm in Texas, and our attorneys are standing by to assist you with your claim.