Texas Dog Bite Laws

Here's when a dog owner can be on the legal hook for injuries in Texas.

Whether you're a dog owner in Texas or you're thinking of filing a dog bite injury claim, it helps to understand the state's rules when it comes to a dog owner's potential civil and criminal liability for injuries caused by their animals. Read on for the details.

No Texas Dog Bite Statute

Unlike many states, Texas does not have a statute that specifically covers a dog owner's civil liability for damages caused by their animal's biting someone.

Instead, in 1974, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Marshall v. Ranne that the state would follow the rule stated in Section 509 of the Restatement of Torts. This means that Texas is a "negligence" or "one bite rule" state for purposes of personal injury cases stemming from dog bites.

In a typical Texas dog bite claim, the injured person must show that:

  • the dog's owner knew that the dog had acted aggressively or had bitten someone in the past, or
  • the dog's owner negligently failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or prevent the bite, and as a result, the injured person was bitten.
Texas's negligence rule applies to other types of injuries caused by dogs as well. For example, if a large dog jumps on a person, knocking them to the ground and causing injury, the injured person may bring a claim for damages 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.
For instance, suppose that a person is taking out the trash one day when the neighbor's dog bites him, causing injury. The injured person could try to show that the dog's owner failed to take reasonable steps to restrain the dog in order to prevent such incidents -- for instance, by keeping the dog on a lead or by putting a fence around the dog's yard. Learn more about Negligence and Personal Injury Claims.

Strict Liability in Texas Dog Bite Claims

Although Texas's "negligence" rule applies to most dog bites, Texas courts will apply a "strict liability" rule in cases in which the dog is known to be "vicious, dangerous or mischievous," and the bites resulted from the dog's known nature. A dog that has bitten a person before may be classified as "dangerous," whether or not the bite caused serious harm.
"Strict liability" in this context means that if their injury was caused by a "dangerous dog," the injured person does not have to demonstrate that the owner also failed to use reasonable care to restrain or control the dog. The injured person will be able to recover damages simply by demonstrating that the dog was known to be dangerous.

Criminal Liability for Texas Dog Bite Claims

In dog bite cases that cause severe injury, the dog's owner may 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:
  • the owner "with criminal negligence" fails to secure the dog, and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, at a location away from the owner's real or personal property, or
  • the owner knows the dog is a "dangerous dog" and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, outside its own secure enclosure, and
  • either of these situations causes serious bodily injury or death.
In addition to facing criminal charges in either of these situations, the dog's owner may also face a civil lawsuit filed by the injured person (or a Texas wrongful death claim filed by the family of the deceased person).

Defenses to a Texas Dog Bite Claim

A dog owner in Texas typically has two defenses to a dog bite lawsuit: lack of knowledge and trespassing. (A different set of defenses may apply in a criminal dog bite case.)
Because many Texas dog bite claims require the injured person to show that the owner knew the dog was aggressive, showing that the owner had no knowledge may work as a defense to a dog bite claim. An owner may not be liable for a dog bite if the owner can show that he or she did not know the dog was likely to bite or to act aggressively, and the owner was not acting negligently in controlling the dog.
If the injured person was trespassing unlawfully on the dog owner's property when the bite occurred, the owner may be able to argue that the person who was bitten bears some or all of the fault for what happened. Learn more about Comparative Negligence in Texas Dog Bite Cases.

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