If you're a dog owner in Texas, or if you're thinking of filing a dog bite injury claim after an incident involving someone else's dog, it helps to understand the state's rules when it comes to a dog owner's liability for harm caused by their animal. In this article, we'll explain:
Unlike many states, Texas does not have a civil statute that specifically lays out a dog owner's civil liability for damages caused by their animal's behavior (i.e. bites and other injuries).
But in 1974, the Texas Supreme Court ruled (in a case called Marshall v. Ranne) that the state follows the "one bite rule" for purposes of personal injury cases stemming from dog bites. This means that, in a typical Texas dog bite claim, the injured person usually must show that:
Despite the name, the "one bite rule" doesn't mean that a dog's first bite is "free" in terms of the owner's liability to whoever was bitten. The term is a shorthand meaning that, after a first bite, the dog owner should be on notice of his or her dog's tendency to bite.
Put another way, an owner whose dog has bitten someone in the past is more likely to be deemed negligent for failing to prevent a later bite. So, Texas's rules for a dog owner's civil liability could also be said to be based on negligence. Texas's dog owner liability rule applies to bites and other types of injuries caused by dogs.
For example, if a large dog jumps on a person, knocking them to the ground and causing a broken wrist, the injured person may bring a lawsuit against the dog's owner. Again, the injured person will have to show either that the dog's owner knew the dog was aggressive or that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from harming others.
In certain very serious dog bite cases, the animal's owner could face criminal charges as well as civil liability.
Texas Health and Safety Code section 822.005 states that a dog's owner may be charged with a felony if:
According to Texas law a "dangerous dog" is one with a prior history of violent or threatening behavior. Specifically, a dog might be designated as dangerous if it either:
Even if a dog does one of these things, though, it won't be designated as dangerous if:
In response to a dog bite lawsuit brought in the state's courts, a dog owner in Texas might, among other potential defenses:
Because most Texas dog bite claims require the injured person to show that the owner knew the dog was aggressive, evidence that the owner had no knowledge of (and had no reason to suspect) the dog's potential viciousness might work as a defense to a dog bite claim. That's especially true in cases where the owner was not otherwise acting negligently in controlling the dog.
If the injured person was trespassing on the dog owner's property when the bite occurred, or was provoking the dog in some way, the owner could successfully argue that the person who was bitten bears some or all of the fault for what happened.
Whether you've been hurt by someone's dog, or someone is accusing your pet of an attack, it's important to know the basics of how the law deals with dog bites and other injuries caused by pets. You can read more about how comparative negligence works in dog bite cases, and about the factors that go into deciding when owners are responsible for the actions of their pets. Or, if you have questions about how Texas' dog bite laws applies to your specific situation, consider reaching out to an attorney in Texas with experience handling animal cases.