If you or a loved one has suffered serious bodily injury by a dog attack, you should contact a qualified personal injury attorney. Dog bite cases are very fact-specific require a thorough understanding of the law. When we receive a call about a dog bite, there are three things we look for before we can take the client’s case: liability, damages, and insurance.
Determining whether the dog owner was liable often depends on several factors, including whether the dog was restrained, whether the attack was unprovoked, whether the dog was known to have dangerous tendencies, and more.
The first step is to determine if the dog had any dangerous propensities or vicious or aggressive tendencies that are not normal to dogs in general? If so, then the dog’s owner can be liable if he or she had knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities, and it would not matter what the dog owner did or did not do to immediately cause the attack.
If the dog did not have any dangerous propensities, we look at the conduct of the dog’s owner. Generally, a dog owner has a duty to use reasonable care to prevent its dog from injuring others. If the dog owner does not use the degree of care that a reasonably prudent person would have used in handling the dog, and that caused the dog to attack, then the owner can be liable.
Negligence Per Se Cause of Action
Separate from the causes of action mentioned above, Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 488 sets out appropriate conduct for dog owners. The dog bite laws that create a negligence per se cause of action separate dog bite cases into two categories: (1) dogs that are not known to be dangerous, and (2) dogs that are known to be dangerous.
How to determine if a dog is dangerous
A dog is deemed to be dangerous in one of two ways. First, a dog can be “dangerous” if the dog makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury and occurs in a place other than an enclosure. Second, a dog can be “dangerous” if the dog commits unprovoked acts that cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person in the future.
Both known dangerous dogs and dogs not known to be dangerous
If the dog is not known to be dangerous, then the owner can only be held liable under the statute if the attack happens away from the owner’s home and if the owner acted with criminal negligence in failing to secure the dog. “Secure” means to take steps that a reasonable person would take to ensure a dog remains on the owner’s property, including confining the dog in an enclosure that is capable of preventing the escape or release of the dog.
Dogs known to be dangerous
If the dog is known the be dangerous, there is no criminal negligence requirement for how the dog escaped; in other words, if the dog is known to be dangerous and is escapes and attacks someone, it does not matter what steps the owner took to secure the dog; the owner is liable.
Second, if the dog it known to be dangerous, the location of the attack is broader. Then the owner can be held liable for an attack that happens even at the owner’s home, so long as the attack does not happen in a “secure enclosure.”
Once liability has been established, we look at damages. Without damages (medical bills, scars, physical impairment), the law will not permit a recovery in a claim. Furthermore, if the injury from the dog attack is not severe, it could mean that it is not economical to hire a personal injury attorney to make a claim. The types of injuries we look for in dog bite cases are injuries that require stitches or injuries that permanently scar, disable, or kill a person.
The third and final factor we look for in a dog bite case is whether there is insurance. Even with clear liability on the part of the dog owner and even with severe damages, if the dog owner does not have either home owner’s or renter’s insurance, a recovery is almost impossible.