Answers To Your Questions About Dog Bite Law In Texas
I am Joseph Onwuteaka, a Houston personal injury lawyer with more than 30 years of experience. I have helped many clients recover compensation after being bitten, mauled or otherwise injured by dogs.
Below I address some frequently asked questions about dog bite claims. If you or a family member was bitten, call me at 281-661-5333 for a free consultation about your specific situation.
What is the ‘one bite rule’?
The “one bite rule” is a much-debated Texas dog bite law. Most states have strict liability, which means that dog owners are automatically liable for harm caused by their pets. Texas is a negligence state when it comes to dog bites and liability. Basically, the animal is entitled to one “free” bite unless the injured party can prove that the animal owner (a) acted negligently or (b) was aware that the animal injured someone in the past.
Examples of negligence include allowing a dog to roam free, walking a dog without a leash, leaving a door or gate open, or failing to fence or chain a dog that is known to be aggressive. The negligence rule also applies to accidental or nonaggressive injuries. For instance, if a large excited dog is off-leash and takes off running, knocking over an elderly person and causing an injury, the owner would still be liable for failing to control their pet.
Does Texas have a dog leash law?
There is no statewide leash law, but the city of Houston, Harris County and many municipalities require dogs to be leashed or muzzled anytime they are off the owner’s property (except at designated dog parks). Violating a leash ordinance could be construed as negligence, nullifying any “one free bite” defense.
Does Texas outlaw ‘dangerous breeds’?
Texas state law prohibits local governments from passing breed-specific restrictions. However, many insurance companies will not cover specific dog breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. This creates a wrinkle for dog bite victims and for pet owners. Without a homeowner’s insurance policy to file a claim against, the victim would have to sue the owner personally to collect damages.
Texas does have a “dangerous dog” law. Once a dog (of any breed) has bitten or attacked someone, the owner is considered to be on notice that they are strictly liable and must take additional steps to protect visitors and the public from their animal.
What if I was on the dog owner’s property?
As long as you were not trespassing, the owner can be liable. The one-free-bite rule would apply if the dog has no history, but the negligence law and dangerous dog law would also apply. Always consult an attorney if you have doubts about your rights.
My child was attacked. Can we sue on their behalf?
Absolutely. If your child was attacked and injured by someone’s animal, you can certainly seek compensation for those losses. When such a claim is worth a substantial amount of money, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for your child. The guardian’s role is to ensure that the child (i.e., not the parents) benefits from any financial compensation recovered in the personal injury lawsuit.
My child was bitten by his best friend’s dog. Do we have to sue the family?
To recover medical expenses and other compensation, you will need to bring a claim against the pet’s owner. Typically, dog bite claims are paid through the homeowner’s insurance policy. It is quite common that the dog who attacked belongs to a neighbor, friend or relative. This can be an awkward situation, but you would not have to file a lawsuit unless the insurance claim is challenged.
What if I was attacked by a stray animal?
If a stray animal attacks you, many times you will not be able to recover financial compensation. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. For instance, if a stray dog wanders into your yard and bites you, then your homeowner’s insurance should cover the medical expenses. Most homeowners’ policies have a clause that addresses this, but insurance companies are required to investigate the case and deal with it in good faith. The other exception maybe if you are bitten by a dog that escaped from a kennel or shelter. In that case, the facility might be held liable for its negligent actions.
What about injuries caused by cats, exotic pets or livestock?
In general, the rules for dogs apply to cats, ferrets and other pets; the owner is responsible for controlling their animal but they might get one free bite. Most pets cannot inflict the same damage as the powerful jaws of a dog, but they could cause serious injury or infection by bites or scratches, especially scratching an eye or clawing a child’s face or hands.
Farmers, ranchers and riding stables have general immunity under Texas law from injuries caused by their horses, cattle or other livestock. There is an assumed risk in horse riding, working on a farm or attending a fair or animal show.
More Questions? Tell Me About Your Situation.
Dog bites in Texas can be complicated. You should not take a dog owner’s word for it that their “sweet fur baby” never bit anyone before. If someone in your household suffered a dog bite or attack, reach out to Law Office Of Joseph Onwuteaka, P.C. Call me at 281-661-5333 or email me a few details. I provide a free consultation and I work on a contingency fee basis.