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Who is Liable For Dog Bites in Houston, Texas?

| Jun 26, 2016 | Firm News

If you are attacked by a dog anywhere in the Houston area, seek medical attention immediately, follow your doctor’s orders, get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses, take photos of your injuries – and the dog, if you can – and then speak with an experienced Houston personal injury attorney. Dog bites can cause staph infections, rabies, disfigurement, and muscle and tissue injuries. Every year in the United States, more than four million of us suffer dog bites. In fact, biting dogs were responsible for 34 deaths in the United States in 2015.

Usually, a dog’s owner is the person legally responsible for any damages or injuries that a dog causes. In some situations, someone who has control over a dog but does not own the dog may be liable for injuries that the dog causes. Others may be legally responsible in rare cases. For example, if a dog’s owner is under 18 years old, the owner’s parents may have legal responsibility. A dog owner’s landlord who knows a dog is dangerous may also be legally responsible for injuries or damages caused by a dog.

If you are the victim of a dog bite in the Houston area, a Houston personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have grounds for a claim, and if so, who should be named as a defendant. Your attorney can explain the Texas laws regarding dog bites, and if you choose to file a personal injury claim, your attorney will fight aggressively for complete reimbursement for your medical treatment and all other injury-related damages.


The “one bite rule” (also called the “first bite rule” or the “one free bite rule”) is a legal doctrine recognized by the courts in a number of states including Texas. The original rationale of the one bite rule was that domestic animals by definition are not dangerous, and therefore liability should only be assigned to a dog owner if the owner had knowledge that a particular animal has a tendency to behave dangerously. The rule applies not only to dog bites but to any type of injury inflicted by a domestic animal.

Thus, the “one bite rule” in Texas allows a dog bite victim to pursue a personal injury claim if an owner knew about previous bites by the dog or other aggressive dog behavior. However, even without such knowledge, a dog bite victim in Texas may still sue a dog owner for negligence. Small children are most commonly the victims of biting dogs, followed by the elderly. Dog bite treatment and recovery can sometimes take many months and may require several surgeries and extensive therapy.

Still, after obtaining medical attention, taking legal action after a dog bite injury should be one of a bite victim’s very first considerations. In states such as Texas with the one-bite rule, someone who “harbors” or “keeps” a dog is just as liable as the legal owner of a dog if the dog causes injury. “Harboring” a dog means feeding, sheltering, or giving refuge to a dog. “Keeping” a dog is more than mere harboring. A person becomes a keeper of a dog only when, with or without the owner’s consent, the person manages, controls, or cares for a dog in the fashion of most dog owners.


Thus, in many dog bite cases in Texas, more than one person may be held legally accountable if a dog injures someone. For example, if someone leaves a dog with a friend for a few weeks, and the dog bites someone while the friend is keeping it, the friend may be liable for negligence under Texas law as the dog’s “keeper,” but the owner may also be liable under the law on the basis of the state’s one bite rule.

If someone under the age of 18 is a dog owner or cares for a dog, the minor’s parents are probably legally liable rather than the minor. However, if the family dog bites the family’s own child, an injured child probably can’t sue the parents for negligence. The reason is the “parental immunity” doctrine applied by many state courts, which is based on the idea that family harmony would be impossible if children could sue parents for every mistake or lapse of judgment they make. However, in several dog bite cases where children were severely injured, courts in other states have allowed state agencies to sue parents on behalf of their own children.

Property owners who allow a dog to stay on their property may be liable for an injury the dog causes, but if you’re hurt at work by a dog, your legal options may be limited. A Massachusetts woman, bitten by her employer’s dog in 1990, was not allowed to sue her employer; her only recourse was to file a worker’s compensation claim, even though the circumstances of the dog bite were not directly work-related.


Dogs usually provide warning signs when they are getting ready to bite someone, and knowing what the warning signs are is imperative. Often, a dog will bark angrily, growl menacingly, lift its lips, and bare its teeth. The animal’s body can go rigid, and the hackles on the dog’s back and neck may stand up. However, not every dog about to bite someone exhibits every one of these warning signs. Since children are the most frequent dog bite victims, teaching your children about dangerous dogs is essential. When you first encounter a dog that you do not know:

  • Do not try to touch or pet the dog.
  • Do not make eye contact with the dog or approach the dog.
  • Remain still and quiet. Do not try to scream or run away.

Teaching your child to ask a dog owner’s permission to approach and pet a dog can greatly help to avoid dog bite injuries. Dog bite injury victims often need extensive reconstructive surgery, skin grafting, and physical therapy. Healing can sometimes take years. You should also know that in Texas, if you sustain a dog bite while trespassing, committing a crime, or provoking a dog, you probably will not be able to file a lawsuit or recover damages.