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 , J.D. | Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney

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 deadline for starting a dog-bite lawsuit in Texas civil courts
  • when Texas owners are legally responsible for injuries caused by their dogs
  • defenses a Texas dog owner might be able to raise in response to a personal injury lawsuit over a dog bite, and
  • other rules that apply to Texas dog owners and their pets.

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).)

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.

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