Texas Dog Bite Laws

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

If you're a Texas dog owner, or you've been bitten or otherwise hurt by someone else's dog, your state's laws pertaining to dog bite liability and lawsuits may be of interest to you. In this article, we'll cover:

  • the filing deadline (statute of limitations) for starting a dog bite lawsuit in Texas civil courts
  • Texas's status as a "one-bite" state when it comes to liability for bite incidents, and
  • defenses a Texas dog owner might be able to raise in response to a personal injury lawsuit over a dog bite.

Texas Dog Bite Lawsuit Statute of Limitations

In each state, a law called a "statute of limitations" sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit in civil court. Different deadlines apply to different kinds of cases. Most states don't have a dedicated statute of limitations for dog bite lawsuits. Instead, these kinds of claims almost always fall under the umbrella of "personal injury" or "tort" cases.

The Texas personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.003, which says that such cases must be filed in court "not later than two years after the day the cause of action accrues"—that means two years from the date of the bite or other incident in which someone else's animal harmed you, in the context of a dog bite case. If you don't get your Texas dog bite lawsuit filed before the two-year deadline passes, you'll almost certainly lose your right to hold the dog owner liable for your injuries.

Texas Is a "One-Bite" State

Unlike in most states, Texas has no civil statute that spells out a dog owner's civil liability for damages when their animal bites or otherwise injures someone. But in a 1974 decision called Marshall v. Ranne, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state follows the "one bite rule" when it comes to personal injury liability arising from dog bites.

The term "one bite rule" is based on the idea that a dog's first bite is "free" when it comes to the owner's liability to whoever was bitten; after this first bite, the dog owner is said to be on notice of his or her dog's tendency to bite. Put another way, an owner whose dog has bitten someone in the past is more likely to be deemed negligent for failing to prevent a later bite. So, Texas's rules for a dog owner's civil liability could also be said to be based on negligence.

Establishing Liability In a Texas Dog Bite Case

The legal rules laid out in the above section mean that, in order to recover damages from a dog owner (or from the dog owner's homeowner's insurance company) after an incident in which their animal injures you in Texas, you typically must show that:

  • the dog's owner knew that the dog had acted aggressively or had bitten someone in the past, and/or
  • the dog's owner negligently failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or prevent the bite, and as a result, you were injured.
Keep in mind that Texas's dog owner liability rules apply to non-bite injuries too. For example, if a large dog knocks you down and you end up injuring your elbow, you can bring a lawsuit against the dog's owner.

Potential Dog Owner Defenses to Liability In Texas

In response to a dog bite lawsuit, a Texas dog owner might, among other potential defenses:
  • claim no warning or knowledge of the dog's dangerousness, or
  • allege that the claimant was trespassing at the time of the incident.
The first defense is really just an argument that the claimant failed to establish that the dog owner had notice of the animal's tendency to bite, or that the owner was otherwise negligent in failing to prevent the claimant's injury.
If the injured person (the claimant) was not lawfully on the dog owner's property when the bite or other injury occurred, the animal's owner might be able to successfully argue that the claimant bears some measure of fault for what happened—or even that the owner should be off the legal hook entirely. Learn more about dog owner liability when a trespasser is bitten and how shared fault works in a personal injury case.
For more details on Texas laws concerning dog bites and owner liability, it might make sense to reach out to an attorney. Learn more about finding the right personal injury attorney.

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