TEXAS DOG BITE LAW – AN OVERVIEW
For most of us, dogs really are man’s best friend. They fill our lives with love, laughter, and slobbery kisses. They are important members of our families. But we have to remember; they are animals and have animal instincts, which means in certain scenarios they can lash out. That’s where Texas dog bite law comes in.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States annually. Almost one in five people who have been bitten by a dog require medical attention, which is many times costly. Dog bites can happen with any breed of any size, and many attacks are the result of the dog owner’s negligence. This means that in many cases, the dog bite was preventable.
However, not all states have the same laws governing dog bites. Texas is a “negligence” or “one bite rule” state when it comes to dog bites. In order to recover damages for a dog bite, the injured person must show negligence on behalf of the dog owner.
Texas Dog Bite Law: What is Strict Liability?
Texas courts will apply a strict liability rule in cases where the dog is known to be vicious, dangerous, or mischievous, and the bite resulted from the dog’s known nature. If a dog has bitten someone before, that dog may be classified as a dangerous dog regardless if the bite caused serious harm. In this context, strict liability means if a dangerous dog caused a person’s injury, the victim would not have to demonstrate that the dog’s owner also failed to use reasonable care to restrain the dog. The injured person would be able to recover damages by simply demonstrating that the dog was known to be dangerous before their injury.
To recover a “one bite rule,” a plaintiff must prove:
- The dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to.
- The owner was aware of the dog’s previous conduct.
- If neither of these conditions are met, the victim cannot recover under this doctrine.
Texas Dog Bite Law: Negligent Handling
A dog bite victim in Texas may recover compensation for their dog bite injuries on the grounds of negligence. Negligence is considered the lack of ordinary care, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. If a dog owner failed to handle their dog as a reasonable, prudent individual, a dog bite victim may initiate a negligent handling action.
This will come into play in a dog bite case when a person creates an obvious risk of a dog bite, for example, letting a stray dog into a backyard where children are having a picnic.
To recover a negligent handling claim, a plaintiff must prove all of the following:
- The defendant owned or possessed an animal.
- The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from harming others.
- The defendant failed to meet that duty.
- The failure to meet the duty caused the plaintiffs injury.
This type of action has an advantage because there is no need to demonstrate that the owner knew the dog’s vicious tendencies.
Texas’s negligence rule does not only apply to dog bites. It will also apply to other types of injuries caused by dogs. For example, if a large dog jumps on an older adult, knocks them down and causes a fracture, the injured person may bring a claim for damages against the dog’s owner. Once again, it must be proven that the dog’s owner knew the dog was aggressive or that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from causing harm to others.
Texas Dog Bite Law: Negligence per se
If an individual violates a law and causes an injury in which that law was designed to prevent, that individual may be presumed to have acted negligently. The negligence per se doctrine comes in to play in dog bite cases when a dog owner or possessor violates animal control laws such as requiring dogs to be on a leash.
The plaintiff must show:
- There was a violation of a statute
- The violation caused the injuries
A landlord or landowner in Texas can be held liable for failing to rid premises of a known dangerous dog. Another example, if the landlord is aware of a dog living on the premises, but does not keep common areas safe for residents or guests such as maintaining doors, gates or other barriers that would keep the dog away from people. The injury must have occurred in a common area under the control of the landlord and the landlord must have had actual or imputed knowledge of the particular dog’s vicious inclination.
What is a Dangerous or Vicious Dog in the eyes of Texas Dog Bite Law?
The Texas law identifies a vicious dog as one that:
- Has bitten or scratched a person on three separate occasions.
- Has bitten or scratched a person and an attending physician presented an affidavit stating that the person’s life may have been endangered by the dog to the health authority on at least one occasion.
- Has killed another dog, cat, domestic pet, or livestock on at least one occasion or injured another animal so severely that the veterinarian presented an affidavit to the health authority advising the injured animal’s life was seriously endangered.
There are three ways that the law recognizes for an owner to learn that their dog is considered a dangerous dog:
- Your dog has attacked someone in the past and you are aware of it.
- The court has sent you a notice that they have found your dog to be a dangerous dog.
- Animal control has informed you that your dog is a dangerous dog.
Is it enough to post a beware of dog sign?
A secure enclosure under Texas law means a fenced in area that is:
- Prevent’s the dog from escaping
- Capable of preventing others from entering
- Clearly marked as containing a dangerous dog
- Inspected and approved by a local animal control authority
Comparative Negligence Defense
In Texas, dog owners are permitted to mount a defense based on the comparative negligence of the dog bite victim. Depending on the success of comparative negligence, the damages awarded are reduced by the degree of the plaintiff’s negligence. For instance, if it is found that the plaintiff’s own conduct was 20 percent responsible for causing the incident, the victim’s recovery will be reduced by 20 percent.
Statute of Limitations
There is a deadline called the statute of limitations to file a dog bite lawsuit in Texas. Plaintiffs have two years to initiate their lawsuit or else forever lose their right to compensation. This makes it critical to contact a Texas dog bite lawyer as soon as possible after suffering a dog bite or dog attack.
What Can a Dog Bite Lawyer Do For Me?
If you have been injured in this type of terrifying situation, know that there are resources available to you. You may be entitled to compensation for:
- Past and future medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Psychological counseling to overcome emotional trauma
Texas dog bite law may not be as simple as it seems, especially if the attack caused serious injuries and lifelong emotional trauma. Seeking compensation in a dog-bite case can be difficult for a number of reasons. It is not likely to know the fair value of your injury claim without having your case evaluated by an experienced Dog Bite Attorney. An attorney will be able to discuss your legal options and navigate through the often complex legal system. Furthermore, insurance companies have the goal to get you to agree to the lowest settlement possible, even if it means undervaluing your claim. A qualified dog bite attorney will know just how to knock down these tactics and pursue fair compensation on your behalf.
It is also of great importance to thoroughly investigate the case to determine whether or not the dog has bitten anyone in the past or if the owner was negligent in handling their dog. Establishing legal fault often requires the assistance and testimony of experts. An experienced attorney will have the knowledge and tools necessary to recover the financial damages you are entitled to.
How The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
If you or someone you love has suffered a dog bite or attack, don’t hesitate to contact the seasoned Texas Dog-bite Attorneys at The Carlson Law Firm. The firm's attorneys have a strong understanding of Texas dog bite law. and have devoted decades to protecting the rights and futures of injured victims and their families. Contact the firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation.