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Dangerous Dogs: Can Owners Be Held Accountable for Bites?

Posted On August 12, 2016 In Personal Injury

Dog bites are relatively common injuries that shouldpit bull always be taken seriously. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States. About one in five of these bites will cause infections.

Why do dogs bite innocent people? In many cases, dogs bite because they have negligent owners. Owners may allow dogs to wander around without leashes or treat them in ways that lead to hostile behaviors. For these reasons, if you have been bitten by a dog, you may have legal options. Under Texas law, there are scenarios where people injured by dog bites can hold owners accountable.

In Marshall v. Ranne, the Texas Supreme Court established criteria for civil litigation involving animal bites. Some call the criteria used by the court in this case the ‘one bite rule’. What are these criteria?

  • Dogs must have a history of aggressive behavior. An owner must also be aware of these aggressive tendencies. This can include prior bites, attempts to bite or other aggressive behaviors.
  • An owner has failed to restrain the aggressive dog (such as by allowing them to roam neighborhoods freely).

Under these circumstances, if a dog bite occurs, it is possible the owner could be held liable. Other aggressive acts by dogs are also covered by this rule, such as knocking people to the ground and causing injuries.

An additional criteria that is often very important in dog bite cases is the breed of the dog involved in the attack. While Texas law does not yet apply strict liability to owners of aggressive breeds, such as Pit Bulls, the strength and aggressive nature of the dog’s breed can still be used to establish whether or not the owner took reasonable steps to restrain the dog.  Furthermore, if your city has an ordinance requiring all dogs to be kept on a leash or in a pen at all times, the mere fact that the dog was allowed to roam in violation of the law will establish the negligence on the owner.

Dog Bites and Texas Law: When Does the One Bite Rule Apply?

We can use a hypothetical example to explain a situation where a dog owner may be held liable for injuries.

Let’s say that you are going for a morning jog through your neighborhood. As you are jogging, you notice your neighbor’s dog, who you jokingly refer to as evil incarnate, chasing you while barking ferociously and baring its teeth. Your jog turns into a full sprint, but you find yourself unable to outrun the snarling animal. It catches up to you and delivers a strong bite to your lower left calf. Another neighbor comes out to your aid, scaring the dog away and sending it running back home. You spend the next week in the hospital recovering from a serious infection caused by the bite.

It turns out this is not the first time this dog has bitten someone. Four months ago, it bit a friend of the owner. The owner also made no attempts to restrain the dog, despite knowing its aggressive tendencies. According to the criteria of the one bite rule, you would have a case to make a claim and/or file a lawsuit.

An attorney could review medical records from your treatment for the dog bite, the behavioral history of the dog and witness statements to help establish your case.

What our hypothetical example does not cover is many dog bites involve children. Dog bites in children can cause severe physical disfigurement and long-lasting emotional distress. Children may also have weaker immune systems, making them more prone to infections from bites. If you or a loved one has been bitten and seriously injured by an aggressive dog, contacting an attorney can help you explore legal options.

The Texas personal injury attorneys at Mike Love & Associates, LLC, will help injured victims of negligence seek justice.

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