Texas Dog-Bite Injury Laws and Owner Liability Rules

The deadline for filing a Texas dog-bite lawsuit, a Texas dog owner's liability for bite injuries, and more.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Texas law determines when owners can be held responsible for dog bites and other injuries. Both owners and anyone who's suffered a dog attack should understand how the state's liability rules work, how a dog-bite lawsuit could proceed, and when owners can be charged with crimes for injuries caused by their dogs.

The Deadline for Filing a Dog-Bite Lawsuit in Texas

Dog-bite victims shouldn't wait too long to pursue their legal options if they think they're entitled to compensation for their damages. Like every state, Texas requires victims who want to file lawsuits in civil court to do so before too much time has passed. This deadline is called the "statute of limitations."

Texas' deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, including a dog-bite lawsuit, is two years. The clock typically starts ticking on the day the victim is injured. (Tex. Civ. Prac. and Rem. Code Code § 16.003 (2023).)

Liability for Dog-Bite Injuries in Texas

Texas dog owners can be found liable for bites and other attacks committed by their pets in two situations.

When an owner is liable under the one-bite rule. Under Texas' version of the so-called "one-bite" rule, owners of dangerous animals are presumed to be legally responsible for any damage those animals cause. An owner who should have known that their dog might hurt someone (for example, because it had previously bitten or threatened someone) is "strictly liable" for injuries their dog inflicts. "Strict liability" means a victim can recover damages without having to prove that their injuries were caused by the owner's irresponsibility. (Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S.W.2d 255 (Tex. 1974).)

When an owner is irresponsible. Even if the one-bite rule doesn't apply, a victim might still be able to sue for negligence. In a negligence lawsuit, the victim has to show that they were hurt by the owner's dog because of the owner's carelessness. (Dunnings v. Castro, 881 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. App. 1994).)

A Texas Dog Owner's Potential Defenses

Texas dog owners have several potential defenses to a dog-bite lawsuit. These include:

  • The one-bite rule doesn't apply. A victim suing under Texas's one-bite rule has to show that the owner knew their dog might be dangerous. If the owner successfully disputes this, then strict liability doesn't apply and the victim can only recover damages by proving the owner was negligent.
  • The victim is to blame. Texas uses comparative negligence. This means that, in dog-bite and other personal injury lawsuits, the defendant can reduce or eliminate their liability by showing that the victim's irresponsibility played a role in the incident. A victim's damages are reduced in proportion to their share of responsibility, and victims who are more than 50% responsible aren't entitled to any compensation. ( Civ. Prac. and Rem. Code Code §§ 33.01-03 (2023.)
  • The victim was a trespasser. In general, Texas law assumes that trespassers are responsible for their own injuries when they're on someone's property without permission. So, Texas's strict liability rule doesn't apply when dogs bite trespassers. Instead, a trespasser seeking damages has to meet the high burden of showing that the owner did something intentional or grossly negligent. (Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S.W.2d 255 (Tex. 1974); Mayer v. Willowbrook, 278 S.W.3d 901 (Tex. App. 2009).)

When Owners Can Be Charged With Crimes for Dog Bites

In rare cases, owners can face criminal consequences over injuries inflicted by their dogs.

Felony charges can only be brought against an owner if their dog has seriously injured or killed someone in an unprovoked attack. In addition, the owner must have either:

Texas has a specific definition for "dangerous dogs," based on the animal's history of attacking or threatening people. Not every attack is proof that a dog is dangerous. For example, a dog won't be classified as dangerous if it was responding to being provoked.

(Tex. Health and Safety Code § 822.005; Tex. Health and Safety Code § 822.041 (2023).)

Getting Help With Your Texas Dog-Bite Case

Both owners and bite victims need to understand how Texas law applies to them. In addition to civil liability, owners can face criminal penalties and risk losing their dog depending on the seriousness of the incident. If you have questions about your situation, it might make sense to reach out to an attorney with experience handling cases like yours.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you