Dog Bite Lawsuits in Texas Can Be Complex
Texas State Law Does Not Have a One-Bite Rule for Animal Attack Lawsuits
Some states have laws that protect a dog owner from liability the first time a dog bites. This is sometimes called a one-bite rule because the dog can bite once without the owner being responsible.
Texas does not have a one-bite rule. An injured person can sue a dog’s owner even if the dog has never bitten anyone else before.
Texas Dog Bite Liability Follows State Negligence Law
Under Texas case law, lawsuits for dog bites and animal attacks are generally governed by negligence principles. Negligence is the legal term for carelessness.
Texas negligence laws require dog owners (or handlers) to use ordinary care in order to prevent their dogs from attacking or injuring someone.
The Standard of Ordinary Care May Depend on the Circumstances
A court will look at all the facts to decide how careful the dog’s handler should have been. Some of the factors they consider include:
Where Did the Attack Take Place?
For example, letting a dog run off leash in a special dog park might be reasonable. But letting a dog off leash in a supermarket might not be.
If the injured person was bitten while trespassing on a property marked with a guard dog sign, the injured person might be partly (or completely) at fault for their own injury.
Did the Dog Have a Violent History?
Sometimes an owner adopts a dog that was taken from a neglectful or even violent owner. It is unfair to blame the dog for its temperament. But many such dogs do have violent tendencies. If they are afraid, they may lash out.
It is in many ways admirable to help such dogs, and many wonderful owners do take on that task. But they also take on the responsibility of having a dangerous animal. The same is true of people who are licensed to keep any hazardous pet.
Owners of a dangerous animal should exercise enormous caution to prevent the animal from encountering anyone they might attack.
Was the Dog Provoked?
It can be unsafe to approach and pet a dog without its owner’s permission. Many dogs look to the owner’s words and behavior to decide if someone is safe. Without the cues, a dog might become frightened and attacked.
A person who harrasses or suddenly moves toward a dog might be considered to have contributed to the accident. Ignoring a dog handler’s warning not to approach the dog might mean the dog handler is not responsible for the attack.
There are other factors that should suggest to anyone that an animal might be dangerous. Ignoring them might mean the injured victim was also careless:
- Kept on a chain
- Animal muzzle
- Aggressive behavior / fighting another animal
- Warning signs
Did the Dog Owner (Handler) Break the Law?
In Texas negligence cases, the court may also look to safety laws for guidance.
For example, many municipalities in Texas require that handlers keep their dogs restrained, and dog bites in Austin or Travis county often implicate city regulations.
Therefore, dog bite lawsuits in Austin, San Antonio or other cities in Texas can therefore be quite complex, and finding an experienced personal injury attorney to represent the victim may be critical to obtaining compensation.
Laws for Dogs That Are Known To Be Dangerous
Some cities in Texas require dog owners to report and register vicious dogs. If the dog bites someone, the owner must notify animal control.
In Austin, a dog owner must register the dog is dangerous if it bites someone without being provoked (kicked, taunted, teased). If the dog was provoked before biting, it does not need to be registered as dangerous.
Dog Bites in Texas and Lillian’s Law
In 2007, Texas passed what is known as Lillian’s Law. That law gives serious penalties to the owner if a dog is running loose.
Criminal Penalties Under Lillian’s Law
When a dog owner violates Lillian’s Law by letting a dangerous dog run loose:
If the dog seriously injures someone, the owner can be punished with up to ten years in prison.
If the dog attack results in death, the owner can face up to 20 years in prison.
Before the owner can be convicted, it must be proven that he or she knew that the dog was aggressive or vicious. For example, if the dog had a history of biting people, the owner should not let it run loose.
Note: Lillian’s Law only applies if the dog is running loose.
Civil Liability for Dog Bites that Violate Lillian’s Law
Even if an owner can be convicted under Lillian’s Law, he or she may still be sued in civil court. The injured party may recover costs related to the injury. This includes medical expenses and pain and suffering.
In an Austin dog bite lawsuit, if the owner was convicted of violating Lillian’s Law, that is strong evidence for the injured victim that the owner was negligent (careless) in handling the dog.
Dog Attacks Can Be Devastating
DNA research of the fossil record reveals that dogs were the first animal domesticated by humans, valued for as formidable hunters and protectors. As the saying indicates, dogs have remained our best friends for some 15,000 years, but their dangerous qualities also persist.
Any Breed of Dog Can Be Dangerous
While some dog breeds like pit bulls are often singled out as particularly dangerous, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) emphasizes that the issue of dog bites and attacks goes beyond any particular variety of canine. All breeds pose significant dangers.
Many small dogs are easily frightened and confrontational. Even “family friendly” breeds like poodles, dachshunds, spaniels, and Chihuahuas have bites that can result in scarring, infection, and psychological trauma.
That is why Texas has chosen to classify dangerous and vicious dogs based on a dog’s behavior, not its breed. The state has what is called a preemption law against breed-specific bans. This means that cities can’t make laws that prohibit any particular dog breed.
Victims of Dog Bites and Animal Attacks
As anyone who has been bitten or attacked by a dog or other animal knows, dogs can also be aggressive and dangerous, and their injuries can be significant and even fatal.
Indeed, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that in a given year, dog bites cause over $100 million in medical costs, and every year the homeowner insurance industry pays out $1 billion in compensation to victims annually.
Children At Risk of Being Bitten by a Dangerous Animal
The American Veterinary Medical Association states that, because of their low stature and sensitivity, children are particularly susceptible to dog attacks.
In fact, half of dog bite victims are 12 years old or under. Many sustain facial and head injuries, and are left with deep scars, both physical and emotional.
As such, the need for reconstructive surgery is more common among young victims of dog bite attacks. While absolutely necessary, these procedures can be very costly. In many cases, a dog bite lawsuit can be a victim’s only way to recover medical expenses and be fully compensated for the pain and suffering.
Not only are children susceptible to physical injury from dog bite attacks, they are likely to suffer serious psychological trauma. Many need treatment from counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health professionals.
If you or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog or other animal, you know how devastating these events can be. You may be healing from your injuries and dealing with medical bills. The last thing on your mind is a complex lawsuit.
But we understand these areas of law, and have the experience and resources necessary to properly fight for your case. If you or your loved one has been a victim of a dog bite or other animal attack, we offer a free consultation with a seasoned lawyer (not a “screener”). Our staff of personal injury attorneys are here to answer any questions you may have.