Animal Attacks and Liability: How to Protect People and Pets

While many Texan families have loving, well-mannered pets that provide joy and comfort to their home, some pets are not as even-tempered and will bite a stranger, friend, neighbor, or even a family member. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are on average 4.5 million reported dog bites in the United States each year with almost one quarter of those animal bites requiring medical care. In many of these cases, the person bitten by the animal may have the legal right to recover damages from the animal’s owner or another responsible party involved. With an experienced injury attorney by your side after your traumatic animal bite experience, we can determine who is liable for your damages.

What to Do If an Animal Bites You

If an animal, no matter what type or where, has bitten you, the first step is to seek medical attention immediately. An animal bite can cause serious injuries as well as infections if not treated properly. The animal does not have to be diseased to spread bacteria or viruses to you. Make sure to describe the attack in great detail to the medical professionals treating you to ensure proper treatment of your injuries. If you are able to, after being bit, try to gather as much information from the owner of the animal and any witnesses as you can.

Once you have been medically evaluated and treatment has begun, consult an experienced animal bite attorney. They will be able to guide you on whether you have a legal claim, what the process entails, and what damages you may be able to recover. Be prepared to provide detailed information about the circumstances surrounding how the animal bit you. Your attorney will ask for any contact information you may have for the animal’s owner. If you do not have this information, a neighbor or witness in the area when the bite occurred might be useful in obtaining the name and phone number of the owner. Knowing all of the details will help your attorney determine the best course of action for filing a dog bite or animal bite injury claim.

Animal Attacks in Texas

Texas does not have a civil statute that details a dog or pet owner’s civil liability for damages caused by their animal’s reckless behavior (including bites and other injuries). However, a 1974 Texas Supreme Court case held that the state follows the “one bite rule” for the purpose of personal injury cases resulting from dog bites. While a bit of an oversimplification, the “one bite rule” stems from the idea that a dog’s first bite does not necessarily put liability for that bite on the owner of the dog. Subsequent bites by the same dog, however, deem the owner negligent in preventing their pet from engaging in the same dangerous behavior. The owner is deemed to have been aware of their dog’s tendencies to bite as a result of seeing the first bite incident and from then on should have been actively preventing their dog from hurting others.

For a typical Texas dog or animal bite claim, the injured party must show that the animal’s owner had knowledge of the pet’s previous aggressive behavior or a biting incident in the past and/or the animal’s owner negligently failed to use reasonable care to control the animal or prevent a person from being bitten. This not only applies to bites in Texas, but also to other types of injuries. For example, if a very large dog runs into a person’s knee, knocking them down and breaking a bone, that injured person could bring a lawsuit against the dog’s owner. The injured party would have to show that the dog’s owner knew the dog acted aggressively or that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from harming others.

Liability in Animal Attacks

To figure out who is liable for damages caused by an animal attack, the first thing to determine is who owns the animal in question. After the owner has been found, it must be determined if that person knew of their pet’s previous dangerous behavior or potential for harm. Determining this can be difficult. Did the owner know when they purchased or adopted this animal that it had the potential to harm others? Having an attorney who is experienced with animal attacks is vital to this process.

In certain animal bite cases, the pet’s owner could face criminal charges as well as civil liability. Texas Health and Safety Code section 822.005 states that a dog’s owner may be charged with a felony if:

  • the owner “with criminal negligence” fails to secure the dog, and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, at a location away from the owner’s property, or
  • the owner knows the animal is a “dangerous dog” according to Texas law, and the dog attacks someone, unprovoked, at a location other than a secure enclosure in which the dog is restrained in accordance with Texas law, and
  • either of these situations causes serious bodily injury or death

Other than the animal’s owner, there are a variety of other parties who could be held liable in an animal attack case. If the animal was being cared for or was in the custody of an “animal keeper,” at an animal shelter, boarding facility, or pet sitter’s home, and that animal bit you, that third party could also be held liable for your damages. If the pet owner is under 18 years old and owns the animal that attacked you, their parents may be held liable for your injuries. If a property owner or landlord knowingly allowed a pet owner to keep a dangerous animal on their property or allowed a dangerous stray animal to take up residence on that property, they could be held liable if the pet or stray animal attacks a visitor to the property.

Get Legal Help After an Animal Attacks

It is a pet owner’s legal responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent their animal from hurting others. If you or your loved one has been hurt or killed as the result of a violent animal attack, our legal team will be able to help you. We care and will listen to your story and determine if you have cause to file a lawsuit against the pet owner to receive fair compensation for your injuries. Contact our experienced legal team today to discuss your case.