Texas Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When can a dog bite victim sue the dog owner in Texas? Learn about the personal injury liability rules and defenses here.

This article looks at some key points of Texas law in dog bite injury cases. First, we'll cover the deadline, or "statute of limitations," for filing a lawsuit in a Texas civil court. Then, we'll look at the law that governs dog bite cases in Texas. Finally, we'll examine Texas's status as a "one bite rule" dog bite state, and discuss the defenses a dog owner might raise when facing a dog bite injury claim.

Deadlines for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit

Texas has a law called the "statute of limitations," which sets a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit in a civil court. A dog bite case is considered a type of personal injury case, and Texas's statute of limitations gives you  two years  to file this kind of lawsuit in the state's civil court system.

The two-year time limit usually starts running on the date the dog bite occurred. If you do not file your case within two years, the court will most likely dismiss your case without hearing it. So, it's important to keep track of when the two-year deadline ends, and file your case before that date.

Texas Dog Bite Law

Texas does not have a statute that covers civil liability for dog bites. Rather, in  Marshall v. Ranne, 511 SW 2d 255 (Tex. S.C. 1974) the Texas Supreme Court adopted the view of dog bite law contained in the Restatement of Torts section 509.  That means Texas is a "negligence" or "one bite rule" state when it comes to dog bites. In order to recover damages for a dog bite, the injured person must show that:

  • the dog's owner knew the dog had bitten someone before or had acted aggressively in the past, or
  • the dog's owner was negligent in controlling the dog or preventing the bite from occurring, and that negligence caused the plaintiff's injuries.

For instance, suppose you are taking out the trash one day when a neighbor's dog bites you. To recover damages under Texas law, you will have to show either that your neighbor knew the dog was aggressive or a "biter," or you will have to show that the neighbor's negligence in failing to restrain or watch the dog led to the bite.

Establishing "Negligence" in a Dog Bite Case

In order to recover damages after a dog bite, you will have to show that the owner, while aware that the dog was aggressive, failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting others. For instance, if the owner of a biting dog regularly lets the dog out to roam the neighborhood without supervision, a court may find the dog's owner is negligent. If you were bitten by the freely-roaming dog, you may be able to seek damages from the dog's owner as a result.

The negligence rule may also apply to other types of dog-related injuries. For instance, if a large dog knocks you down and you are injured, you may be able to recover damages if you can show that, "but for" the owner's negligent failure to control the dog, the dog would not have been able to knock you down or injure you.

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability in Texas

A dog owner in Texas typically has two defenses against a dog bite claim: lack of knowledge and trespassing.

Because Texas dog bite law requires that an owner knows a dog has bitten before or has shown aggressive tendencies, an owner may not be liable for a dog bite if the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of the dog's propensities, and that the owner did not otherwise act negligently.

For instance, if a previously calm and friendly dog suddenly bites a passing pedestrian, the owner may be able to escape liability by showing the dog had not shown signs of being aggressive before, and that walking the dog on the leash amounted to reasonable care.

Texas's dog bite laws also do not apply to trespassers. If a person is bitten while unlawfully on the private property of another, the dog's owner may not be liable for the bite. (Learn more about  homeowner liability when a trespasser is injured.)

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