Who is Legally Responsible When a Dog Bites?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
If you or a loved one were injured by a dog bite, who is legally responsible? The simple answer is the dog’s owner, but there may be extenuating circumstances that can place the liability on other parties instead of or in addition to the dog’s owner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 4.7 million people are bitten or mauled by dogs every year, most commonly children. Of these several million dog-bite victims, more than 800,000 require medical treatment. Unfortunately, more than a dozen deaths occur every year due to dog attacks.
In most states, the owner is held responsible for injuries/damages incurred when their dog attacks someone.
The general rule of thumb is that dog owners are responsible for any damages or injuries caused by their animal’s behavior; however, different states have different laws regarding the amount of responsibility a dog owner has over their animal. Some states impose strict liability upon dog owners; this means that regardless of the circumstances surrounding the dog attack, the owner is fully culpable if their dog bites someone. In other states, it’s possible that the dog’s owner may be held only partially liable providing there is no evidence to indicate they were aware of the danger their animal posed. In these states, a dog owner is only held fully liable when there is proof that they were aware their animal might harm someone, and did not take adequate measures to prevent an attack.
Texas does not have a specific statute in place regarding liability when someone’s dog bites. Instead, Texas is considered a “negligence” or “one bite rule” state, which means the victim must be able to prove that the dog’s owner was aware their animal had acted aggressively in the past, and that the dog owner failed to provide adequate measures to control their dog and as a result the victim was injured.
Under certain circumstances, the injured party may be partially liable.
An example of circumstances in which the injured party could be held at least partially liable for the injuries/damages incurred by a dog attack, is if the victim was preemptively warned about the danger the animal posed and ignored these directions and adequate protections the dog’s owner had in place. When these circumstances arise, a dog bite victim’s chances of winning their case decrease significantly. For example, since Texas uses comparative negligence laws, if someone is 10% at fault for their own injury, their compensation could be reduced by 10%. As long as the victim is 50% or less responsible, they are still eligible to file a lawsuit. This phenomenon of liability is based on the reasonable expectation that if a person knowingly approaches or allows themselves to remain in the vicinity of a dangerous animal, they are accepting the risk of an attack by that animal.
When a dog bite occurs in or around an animal care facility, that facility may be legally responsible.
There are many types of facilities responsible for keeping animals—and the people they might interact with—safe. Some of these facilities include dog shelters, animal hotels, grooming services, veterinary clinics, pet stores, kennels, etc. If someone is injured due to an animal attack on the premises of one of these facilities, and the attack could have been prevented by proper attention to safety protocols by the facility’s staff, the facility may be liable for any injuries/damages incurred in an animal attack.
When parents knowingly keep a dangerous animal around a minor child, they may be held liable for any injuries/damages incurred.
If a family owns an animal they know to be potentially dangerous, and also allows a child under the age of 18 into their house—including their own child—the parents may be held liable for any injuries occurring as a result of that animal biting or attacking a child. In these situations, it’s possible that a third-party could bring a legal claim forward against the parents of the minor child that was bit. Again, in these instances, the accusing party must be able to prove that the parents had prior knowledge of the risk their animal presented.
If the owner of a property allows an animal onto their property, they could be liable if it injures someone.
In these situations where a property owner knowingly allows an animal onto their property, regardless of whether they were aware of the danger that animal posed, they could be held liable for any damages which occur in the case that the animal bites or attacks someone.
If a landlord was aware of a dangerous animal on the premises and did not take measures to have it removed, they could be held liable if a bite occurs.
When a tenant or visitor to the landlord’s property is injured by an animal the landlord was aware resided there, the landlord could be held liable for any injuries/damages that occur as a result. Landlords are required to be informed of animals on the premises, and if a landlord knows a tenant is keeping a potentially dangerous animal, and makes no efforts to prevent it or have the animal removed, the landlord may be liable in addition to the animal’s owner.
Dog owners can greatly reduce the risk of an attack by taking proper, adequate steps to train their animal, including socializing the dog with different kinds of people and other animals, and always obeying laws regarding the dog’s restraint. Potential dog-bite victims can decrease the chance of an attack by refraining from approaching unknown animals, and approaching those they do know with caution and kindness.