Texas Dog Bite Laws

When can a Texas dog owner be on the legal hook for injuries caused by their animal?

Whether you're a dog owner in Texas or 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.

The term "one bite rule" is something of an oversimplification of the idea that a dog's first bite is "free" in terms of the owner's liability to whoever was bitten; after this first bite, the dog owner is said to 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.

All of 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, and/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 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. Learn more about a negligent dog owner's liability.

Criminal Liability for Texas Dog Bite Claims

In certain 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" according to Texas law, 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.

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, 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, especially 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, the owner could successfully argue that the person who was bitten bears some or all of the fault for what happened. Learn more about comparative negligence in dog bite cases.

For more details on Texas laws concerning dog bites and owner liability, it might make sense to reach out to an attorney. Learn more about finding and working with a personal injury attorney.

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