Legally Speaking: Every Texas Dog Gets One Free Bite

Dalmatian running on sand

I remember learning this legal theory in my first year torts class in law school. The theory is that “every dog gets one free bite,” and it’s known to lawyers as the “one bite rule.” What this means is that a dog owner can only be held liable if:

  1. the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and
  2. the owner was actually aware of the dog’s previous contact.

-Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S.W. 2d 255 (Tex. 197)

Even if someone was seriously injured or even killed, they may not be successful in bringing a lawsuit against the dog owner unless they provide evidence of both of these conditions. What this means in practical terms is that states like Texas protect a dog owner from liability for the first time his dog bites someone unless it can be proven that the dog had a known dangerous propensity and was likely to bite people without justification.

Texas dog bite lawyers also may employ a negligence theory when advocating on behalf of clients injured by dog bites. Even if there is insufficient evidence to satisfy “the one bite rule,” a dog owner may be liable for their negligent handling of the animal. The standard is commonly referred to as the reasonable man standard, meaning:

“Did the dog owner fail to exercise the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful dog owner would have under the same or similar circumstances?”

-Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S. W. 2d 255, 259 (Tex. 1974)

In order to bring a Texas dog bite lawsuit, it may also be important to research local animal control laws. Many Texas counties and cities have leash laws which require dogs to be on a leash. Below are some links to leash laws in the following areas of Texas:

If the dog bite victim can prove that the dog owner violated an applicable leash law, then the Court could determine that the dog owner was negligent as a matter of law. This is commonly referred to as “negligence per se.”

It is important to realize that even if you are attacked by a vicious dog, the dog owner can defend himself by blaming the attack on you. Therefore it is important to read our article on Dog Bites on how to keep yourself safe from dog attacks.

If you were attacked, but fortunately you were not injured or seriously injured, you should nevertheless report the attack in writing to the homeowner and to the local authorities. This may prevent another attack to someone who might not be as lucky.

If you have recently been seriously injured by a dog attack, it is important to contact a dog bite attorney¬†promptly. One of the first things a dog bite lawyer will want to do is hire an investigator to interview neighbors about the dog’s prior conduct to try and find evidence that the dog owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities and failed to protect others from harm. Most homeowners policies cover dog bite claims and are sure that if the homeowner reports the dog bite to his insurance company, that they will have their investigators on the scene very quickly. So, my advice is that you contact a lawyer right away.

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Author: Kay Van Wey

Kay Van Wey is an award-winning Board Certified Texas Personal Injury Lawyer. Learn more at www.vanweylaw.com.

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