In the summer of 2017, Texans learned in horror that a pit bull mixed breed had mauled 7-year-old Brison Aldrige in Mason, Texas—leaving the boy with gaping bites on his thighs and back. Aldrige was treated at the hospital and released, all things being said, his injuries could have been much worse.
Unfortunately, this dog attack isn’t a unique occurrence in the Lone Star State. Between 2005 and 2013, Texas had the most dog bite fatalities (34) in U.S. states.
While the law can’t prevent dog bites from happening, it does offer legal remedies for those who have suffered injuries because of the negligence of dog owners.
Texas Dog Bite Law
Texas’ view on dog bites was forged by the 1974 Texas Supreme Court case, Marshall v. Ranne, which established the Lone Star State’s “one bite rule.” (Interestingly, the actual story at the heart of this case involved a hog attack, not a dog bite.) What the “one bite rule” means is that an owner of a dog is liable for damages caused by the animal if:
- The defendant knew the dog had previously bitten someone or been aggressive; or
- The defendant was negligent in restraining the dog or preventing the bite, which caused injury to the plaintiff.
If a dog has previously bitten someone or been aggressive, the owner must exercise reasonable care in keeping the dog under control. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable care could include keeping it on a leash while in public or locked away from invited guests in the owner’s home.
Owner Defenses to Dog Bite Liability in Texas
To avoid liability for dog bite injuries, an owner may claim he had no knowledge of the dog’s aggressiveness.
In the alternative, an owner may also claim that the plaintiff had been trespassing on the defendant’s property at the time of the incident: If someone is illegally on the dog owner’s property, he may not be able to recover damages from the owner following a bite.
Statute of Limitations
As with all personal injury actions in Texas, dog bite victims must file a lawsuit to recover damages within two years of the date of the dog bite.