Dogs Get One Free Bite Under Texas Law
Under Texas case law, a dog gets one free bite without suffering penalty. After that, if the dog bites again, the dog and the dog owner can be held liable for injuries. A dog bite victim can recover compensation for their injury from the dog’s owner, keeper or harborer, if the dog has bit someone on a previous occasion or acted viciously, and if the dog’s owner, keeper or harborer knew that the dog has a history of biting.
Dog Bite Causes of Action
Dog bite claims can have a number of causes in Texas. The causes of action for a dog bite claim in Texas include:
- Violation of an animal control law;
- Failing to stop an in-progress dog attack;
- Keeping a dog that is known to be vicious; and/or
- Negligence of the dog’s owner.
Negligence On The Part Of A Dog Owner
If a dog owner, harborer, or keeper handles or keeps a dog in a way that is negligent, the owner can be held strictly liable for any harm that the dog causes. Negligent conduct for dog bites is included in Texas case law, and is conduct that is outside of what a reasonable person would have done in the same or similar circumstances. A dog owner or keeper can be considered negligent if:
- They were in possession of or owned the dog;
- They owed a duty to protect others from harm caused by the dog;
- They failed to protect others from harm caused by the dog; and
- Because of the dog owner or keeper’s actions/inaction, the dog hurt the other person.
Negligence when it comes to dog bites takes many forms. A dog owner could be negligent if they knew the dog was vicious or tended to act strangely around strangers, and yet failed to take precautions to keep the dog from escaping their custody and interacting with strangers. A dog owner could be negligent if they expose an unstable dog to children and the dog bites a child.
Texas Dangerous Dog Statutes
The state of Texas imposes strict liability on owners for any dog bites committed by a “dangerous dog.” Under Texas Health and Safety Code, a dangerous dog is one that when unprovoked either:
- Attacks someone and causes bodily injury to that person; or
- Acts in a way that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily harm.
Texas law requires that “dangerous dog” owners register the dog with the local animal control authority; restrain the dog at all times, either in a secure enclosure or on a leash; obtain liability insurance for the dog, up to at least $100,000; and abide by all local laws and ordinances concerning dangerous dogs. The city of Houston further requires that the “dangerous dog” be microchipped, tagged with a “dangerous dog” tag, and sterilized.
Houston Dangerous Dog Code
Houston also distinguishes dogs that are “aggressive dogs” from normal dogs and “dangerous dogs.” An aggressive dog is one that:
- Without provocation, bites, assaults, or otherwise attacks someone on the dog owner’s property while the person is there with permission from the owner;
- While inside an enclosure, has displayed aggressive tendencies in the past that cause a person with normal sensibilities to fear that the dog will attack without provocation;
- Has trapped a person, or prevented a person from going somewhere by interfering with the individual’s freedom of movement, whether the dog was on the dog owner’s property or otherwise; or
- Causes an animal control person officer or a peace officer to reasonably believe that the dog is likely to hurt someone or has a dangerous disposition.
“Aggressive dogs” in Houston must be microchipped, tagged with an “aggressive dog” tag, restrained by either leash or enclosure, and sterilized by the dog owner.
Dog Bite Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
When a person suffers a dog bite, it is considered a personal injury. Under Texas law, personal injury claims have a statute of limitations of two years. This means that an injured party has two years from the date of the dog bite to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Dog Bite Case Defenses
When a dog bites a person, the dog owner may present a defense to the accusations that are made. Dog owners have two main defense options in Texas: either the dog’s owner had no knowledge that the dog has a history as a biter or of displaying vicious or aggressive behavior and that the owner did not act negligently when it came to protecting others from the dog, or that the bitten victim was a trespasser. These defenses may be successful, but that does not mean that they will be supported in every dog bite case. Defenses to dog bite personal injury claims, and whether they are successful, depend on the specific facts of each case.