Texas Dog Bite / Animal Attack Law
There are several ways under Texas law to hold a person responsible, or liable, for a dog bite or animal attack. This page covers the primary claims, or causes of action, available to those injured from a dog bite. Every case is different, and there might by other theories of liability available to an animal attack victim.
Negligent Handling of Animals
"Negligence" is the claim made in most general personal injury cases. There is also a negligence claim available to those injured by a dog bite. An injured person must prove the following four things (legally known as "elements") to prove that a person was negligent in the handling of an animal: (1) the person owned or possessed the animal; (2) the person owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring someone; (3) the person breached his or her duty; and (4) the person's breach of the duty proximately caused a person's injury. This claim differs from a claim alleging strict liability (see below), because an injured person does not need to prove that an animal was vicious or dangerous when suing for negligent handling.
The first element - who owned or possessed the animal - is fairly straightforward in most cases, because it is usually easy to prove who owned or possessed a dog. However, it is important to identify all people who owned or possessed the dog to locate all available insurance.
The second element - whether the owner or possessor of a animal owed a duty to the injured person - depends on the facts of the case. For example, in the typical animal attack case, a dog owned or possessed by a homeowner bites and injures someone. In that situation, a person owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent his or her animals from injuring people. If the defendant is a landlord, the duty is different. In common areas (such as around a pool at an apartment complex), a landlord owes a duty to an injured person if the landlord (1) had actual or imputed knowledge that a dog was in a common area and (2) actually knew that the animal had vicious propensities. If the animal attack occurred in the actual leased premises (such as in an apartment), the landlord owes a duty to a non-tenant if the landlord (1) actually knew that the animal was on the leased premises; (2) actually knew that the animal had vicous propensities; and (3) was able to control the premises. Lastly, if a person is injured by livestock, the law can differ by county.
The third element - an owner or possessor breaching the duty - can occur in a numher of very obvious ways. A person might walk a dog without a leash, tether a dog in a front yard, or let an animal roam free. A person might not take action to stop a dog attack after it has begun. A person might also fail to maintain a fence or pen, thereby allowing an animal to escape and harm someone.
The fourth and last element - proximate cause of injury - is simpler to understand that it sounds. "Proximate cause of injury" means that the other three elements above must have caused foreseeable (or potentially expected) harm or injury to someone. The harm is usually physical injury, but it can also include mental anguish and permanent psychological injury.
Dangerous Domesticated Animals - Strict Liability
A person injured by an animal can also bring a claim in a lawsuit if the animal is a dangerous domesticated animal. A domesticated animal is one that we keep in a tame condition, such as dogs, cats, and horses. A person must prove the following four elements for this claim: (1) the defendant owned or possessed the animal; (2) the animal had dangerous propensities abnormal to its class; (3) the defendant knew or had reason to know that the animal had dangerous propensities; and (4) the dangerous propensities were the producing cause of injury. We covered the first element in the negligent handling section above. Let's take a look at the three elements that are different.
The second element - that an animal has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class - simply means that a particular dog, for example, acts in a way different from other dogs. A dog that attacks people, unprovoked, or that is generally ferocious might meet this element. Whether a particular animal meets this element depends on the facts of the particular case.
The third element - that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the animal had dangerous propensities - is fairly straightforward. If a person knew that his dog did not like children, or that it attacked people for no reason, then this element is met. Also, this element is met even if a person did not know that his or her animal had dangerous propensities. If the person knew enough about the dog that the person should have known that it was dangerous, that knowledge is enough.
The fourth or last element - that the dangerous propensities were the producing cause of injury - sounds like the "proximate cause" fourth element of a negligent handling claim described above. However, there is an important difference. While proximate causation requires that a defendant foresee that his actions might cause injury, producing causation does have the same requirement. If a defendant's actions cause injury, under a producing cause anaysis, the defendant is liable even if the injury was not foreseeable. This is called "strict liability" in the law.
Wild Animals - Strict Liability
If a person is injured or killed by a wild animal kept by another person, there might a "strict liability" claim available. An injured person or her family must prove the following elements for this claim: (1) a person either reduced a wild animal to the person's possession or control or introduced a wild animal into the area; (2) the wild animal had dangerous propensities characteristic to its class; and (3) the dangerous propensities were the producing cause of the plaintiff's injury.
The first element - possessing, controlling, or introducing a wild animal - requires that the animal be one that ordinarily lives in a natural state and which is not normally tamed or domesticated. These animals might include tigers, bears, crocodiles, and some monkeys. The second element - that the animal have dangerous propensities characteristic to its class - simply means that the wild animal is dangerous. There is a presumption that a person who keeps a wild animal knows the dangerous propensities of that wild animal. The third and last element, requiring just producing cause, makes the claim a "strict liability" claim (as described above).
Texas Dangerous Dog Act
The Texas Dangerous Dog Act is a law that applies to anyone who owns, possesses, or controls a dangerous dog. The Act is in Chapter 822 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The Act defines a "dangerous dog" as one that either (1) makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury or (2) commits unprovoked attacks that cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury. The law imposes certain obligations on an owner, including obtaining insurance or delivering an animal to animal control after a determination that a dog is dangerous. The Act also provides criminal penalties for dangerous dog owners.
Some Texas cities, towns, and counties have leash laws, which are ordinances which regulate restraint of animals. Take a look at our Animal Ordinances page (links at the top and bottom of this page) for summaries of some ordinances.
Negligence Per Se
If a dog owner violates the Texas Dangerous Dog Act or a local ordinance, then the owner might be liable to someone harmed as a result for negligence per se. Negligence per se requires that an injured person prove that (1) the injured person belongs to the class of people the statute or ordinance was designed to protect, and the injury is the type the law was designed to prevent; (2) the statute or ordinance is one for which tort liability may be imposed when violated; (3) the owner violated the law without excuse; and (4) the owner's act or omission proximately caused the injury. The first two elements are case-specific and must be determined by a court. The third element - that the owner violated the law without excuse - implies that there might be some legal defenses available to an owner. The last element, addressing proximate cause, is essentially the same as the last element for a negligent handling of an animal claim (see above).
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