Houston Dog Bite Lawyer
According to DogsBite.org, a national dog bite victims’ group dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks, Texas led the nation in the number of fatal dog attacks over an eight-year period from 2005 to 2013. A large majority of those killed in dog attacks were children aged 11 years or younger, and over half of those children were two years old or younger. Harris County led the state in the number of fatal dog attacks.
Dog bites are painful, frightening, injurious and potentially deadly. Victims may be left with permanent scarring, disfigurement or lifelong trauma and fear. Small children unfortunately often fare the worst in an attack by a vicious dog. Texas law does not make it easy to recover compensation for the damages caused by a dog bite, but a skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated personal injury lawyer can help recover much needed financial help. The Houston dog bite lawyers at Livingston & Flowers are committed to obtaining that compensation and a measure of justice for dog bite victims in Houston, Beaumont, Galveston and neighboring communities.
Negligence, Strict Liability and One Free Bite in Texas
Texas dog bite law is a confusing mix of negligence and strict liability legal theories, making the pursuit and recovery of compensation a complicated matter in many instances. Unlike most states, Texas does not have a law on the books regarding civil liability for dog bites and animal attacks. There are, however, many court cases that have fleshed out the rules in Texas for civil personal injury claims related to dog bites.
The landmark case in Texas is a Texas Supreme Court case from 1974 known as Marshall v. Ranne. Although this case involved a hog bite and not a dog bite, it has become the standard when dealing with any dog bite or vicious animal attack in the state. In Texas, dog owners are strictly liable for the injuries caused by their animals whenever the owner knew or should have known in advance of the attack that the dog was vicious. For instance, if the dog had ever bitten before or otherwise acted aggressively, this is probably enough to establish strict liability on the part of the owner. Strict liability means that it does not matter whether the owner used care in keeping the animal or not; the owner of a dog known to be vicious is strictly liable for the harm caused by the attack.
Even if the owner did not know or have reason to know that the dog might bite, the owner can still be held liable if the owner failed to use reasonable care in controlling the dog or preventing the bite. In legal terms, this is a negligence standard as opposed to a strict liability standard. Examples of conduct that may be negligent could include letting a dog roam off-leash in public or keeping the animal unchained in an unfenced yard.
When the case involves negligence, Texas personal injury law allows the defense of comparative negligence. In other words, if the dog bite victim was partly to blame for the bite, such as by provoking the attack or trespassing on the owner’s property, then any liability of the dog owner will be reduced in proportion to the victim’s comparative negligence. The victim’s comparative negligence is not a defense when the claim involves strict liability, but in these cases it is often said the dog gets “one free bite.” In other words, if the owner did not know the dog was vicious and the owner wasn’t negligent in keeping the dog, the victim may not be able to recover any compensation under either legal theory.
Effect of Texas criminal laws on civil liability for dog bites in Houston
Although Texas has no civil statute on dog bite liability, it does have a criminal statute. Texas Health and Safety Code section 822.005 holds a dog owner liable for criminal negligence for dangerous dog attacks when the owner fails to secure the dog outside a secure enclosure or on the owner’s property, and the attack causes serious injury or death. The fact of a dog owner’s conviction under this statute can be used in a civil case to establish the owner’s negligence. However, even if a dog owner was found not guilty of violating this law, the owner could still be found civilly liable, since different standards apply to civil and criminal cases: criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, while civil cases need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. A skilled personal injury attorney can marshal the right set of facts and legal arguments to prove a dog owner’s liability to fully compensate the dog bite victim.
Help is Available for Dog Bite Injuries in Houston and Beyond
The laws in Texas may contain a confusing mix when it comes to dog bite law, but the Houston dog bite lawyers are up to the task of making sense of the laws and pursuing the best course for helping dog bite victims get the compensation they need to deal with their injuries and hold the owner accountable. If you or a loved one was injured by a dog bite or animal attack in the greater Houston area from Galveston to Beaumont, call Livingston & Flowers, P.L.L.C. at 713-489-4400 for a free consultation on your potential claims.