Dog bite laws, common defenses, and steps to take following a dog bite incident
In the blink of an eye, a friendly encounter with man's best friend can turn into a terrifying and painful ordeal. Texas dog bite laws serve to protect dog-bite victims and hold pet owners accountable.
In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of dog bite statutes in Texas, exploring the legal responsibilities of dog owners, the rights of victims, and the critical steps you should take following a dog bite incident.
Texas dog bite laws
When it comes to dog bite laws, states typically apply one of two laws:
|Strict liability||One-bite rule|
|In states that apply strict liability, a dog owner is liable for a dog bite regardless of whether or not the dog displayed aggressive or violent tendencies prior to the bite.||In states that apply a one-bite rule, a dog owner is only responsible for a dog bite if the owner knew or should have known about their dog’s violent tendencies.|
Texas is a one-bite state, which means the person injured by a dog bite must show that the dog’s owner knew the dog acted aggressively or had bitten someone in the past.
Unlike most states, Texas dog bite laws don’t come from a statute. Rather, the one-bite law comes from a 1974 Texas Supreme Court case, even though the case didn’t involve a dog.
Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S.W.2d 255 (Tex. 1974)
In Marshall v. Ranne, the plaintiff, Marshall, sought damages after being injured by Ranne's boar.
The central issue in the case was whether Ranne could be held liable for the harm caused by his domestic animal, which was known to have dangerous propensities. The court relied on § 509 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which states that the owner or possessor of a domestic animal is subject to liability for harm caused by the animal if they have reason to know of the animal's dangerous propensities.
The court found that Ranne was aware of the boar's dangerous propensities, as evidenced by a previous incident in which the boar had attacked another person. As a result, the court held that Ranne was liable for the injuries caused by the boar, even though he had exercised care to prevent the boar from causing harm.
Additionally, a dog-bite lawsuit can be based on negligence. To prove that a dog owner was negligent, the injured person must establish that the dog owner failed to use reasonable care to control their dog or to otherwise prevent the bite.
Common defenses to dog bite claims
There are three common defenses to dog bite claims in Texas.
First, the owner won’t be liable (at least under the one-bite rule) if the owner can rebut the injured person’s claim that the dog acted aggressively or bit someone prior to the incident.
Second, the owner won’t be liable if they can prove that the injured person provoked their dog. There’s no clear definition of what constitutes “provocation” for purposes of this defense, but it may not be necessary that the dog is provoked directly. For example, physically attacking the dog’s owner while the dog is nearby may constitute “provocation” sufficient for the owner to avoid liability.
Third, the owner may not be liable if the injured person was bitten while they were unlawfully on the owner’s property. However, in some cases, the owner has a duty to warn trespassers that a dog is on the property by, for example, posting signs.
Potential criminal liability for a dog bite in Texas
In some instances involving dog bites, the pet owner may be subject to criminal charges in addition to civil liability.
According to Section 822.005 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, a dog owner can be charged with a felony if at least two conditions are met:
- The owner, due to criminal negligence, fails to restrain the dog, leading to an unprovoked attack on a person at a location that is not the owner's property; or
- The owner is aware that their dog is considered dangerous, and the dog, without provocation, attacks someone at a place other than a secure enclosure where the dog is restrained; and
- The dog-bite victim suffers severe bodily harm or death.
Dog bite damages available in Texas
In Texas, a person injured by a dog bite can recover the following types of damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary costs that result from the dog bite (such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage).
- Noneconomic damages represent the non-monetary costs that result from the dog bite (such as pain and suffering).
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available if the dog owner was grossly negligent or intentionally caused the harm.
Steps to take after a dog bite incident in Texas
You can’t always control what happens before and during a dog attack, but you may be able to control what happens after a dog attack.
Here are some critical steps to take after suffering a dog bite:
- Seek medical attention: Immediately after a dog bite, prioritize your safety and health. Get medical attention, whether that means receiving first aid or going to a hospital. Proper medical care can help prevent infection, reduce the risk of complications, and ensure that your injuries are well-documented for any future legal actions.
- Gather information: If possible, collect relevant information about the dog and its owner, such as their names, addresses, phone numbers, and any insurance information. If there are witnesses, get their contact details as well. This information can be crucial in establishing fault for the dog bite incident.
- Document the incident: Take photos of your injuries, the location where the incident occurred, and, if possible, the dog that bit you. Write a detailed account of what happened, including the date, time, and circumstances of the attack. Keep records of any medical expenses, lost wages, or other damages related to the incident.
- Report the incident: Notify local animal control or law enforcement agencies about the dog bite. Filing a report creates an official record of the incident, which can be helpful in the event of a lawsuit.
- Consult an attorney: If your injuries are severe or the dog owner is uncooperative, consider consulting a personal injury attorney experienced in dog bite cases.