Texas Dog Bite Laws

Owners in Texas can face lawsuits and even criminal charges for injuries caused by their dogs.

Updated by , J.D. | Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney

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:

  • when a Texas dog owner might have personal injury liability for bites and other kinds of harm
  • a dog owner's potential criminal liability for injuries caused by their animal, and
  • the kinds of arguments a Texas dog owner might make when faced with allegations of civil or criminal wrongdoing in connection with their animal's behavior.

Texas Follows the "One Bite" Rule

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:

  • 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.

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.

Texas Dog Owners Can Be Held Criminally Liable for Some Biting Incidents

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:

  • the owner "with criminal negligence" fails to secure the dog, and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, at a location away from the owner's property, or
  • the owner knows the animal is a "dangerous dog," and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, at a location other than a secure enclosure in which the dog is restrained in accordance with Texas law, and
  • either of these situations causes serious bodily injury or death.

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:

  • attacked and injured someone, or
  • behaved in a threatening way that made someone afraid they'd be attacked and injured.

Even if a dog does one of these things, though, it won't be designated as dangerous if:

  • The incident occurred inside the secure enclosure where the dog is usually kept, or
  • the dog was provoked.

Defenses to a Texas Dog Bite Claim

In response to a dog bite lawsuit brought in the state's courts, a dog owner in Texas might, among other potential defenses:

  • claim lack of knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities
  • point to evidence that the dog was provoked by the person it bit, or
  • allege that the person who was bitten (or otherwise injured) was trespassing at the time of the incident.

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.

Learn More About How to Handle a Dog Bite Claim In Texas

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.

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