Can you sue for a dog bite in Texas?

The short answer is yes, you can sue for a dog bite, but it’s not quite as straightforward as that, at least, not in Texas. You may have heard of the “one bite rule” relating to dogs, meaning the owner is not held liable for the first bite. That is, a dog owner can’t be liable for an attack unless the dog has a history of prior attacks. Texas does not have a “one bite rule.”

Dog bites are on the rise across the nation and in Texas. In fact, recent figures released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveal there are approximately 4.5 million bites every year. Of these dog bite injuries, at least 750,000 of the people bitten needed medical care and over 300,000 individuals arrive at the emergency room every year after being bitten by a dog.

The dog bite problem is a lot bigger in Texas than many people realize. In fact, between 2005 and 2013, there were 34 fatalities recorded as a result of dog attacks – a figure that far outstrips other states. It’s disturbing for another reason and that is that most of the targets for dog attacks are children: 52 percent under the age of 3-years-old and 68 percent under the age of 12-years-old.

While it is very tempting to post pictures and commentary on social media platforms to share dog bite stories, as an attorney this is one of the first things I tell you “not” to do. Do “not” post pictures or details of a dog attack on any social media. Why?

Because you need to assume that the insurance company is trolling for just that kind of information and when they find it, they make copies of it, twisting the facts against “you.” An insurance company is not your friend and their intention is to attempt to reduce, diminish or deny any claims made to protect the company bottom line. Do not post about the attack, any injuries sustained or your case. Speak “only” to your lawyer and do not wait too long to file a claim

Animal attacks in the Lone Star State must be filed within two years of the attack. Do not wait too long to file a claim. It is vitally important to reach out to an dog bite injury attorney right away in order to ensure all investigations relating to the case are conducted promptly, when the evidence is fresh. The attorney investigates the dog’s history, talks to neighbors or others injured by the same dog, perhaps the dog’s veterinarian, and in general pieces together a picture of the dog’s personality. The longer you wait, the harder it is for your attorney to make a case without evidence.

Types of dogs implicated in attacks
Just about any dog, if given enough provocation, can bite. Several breeds usually carry out the most serious attacks and those breeds are: Pit Bulls (4,693 attacks between 1982 and 2016), Rottweilers (612 attacks between 1982 and 2016), German Shepherds (220 attacks between 1982 and 2016), Bull Mastiffs (124 attacks between 1982 and 2016), and Huskies (95 attacks between 1982 and 2016).

The average costs of dog bite claims has skyrocketed 90 percent between 2003 and 2017 and according to DogsBite.org, these injuries account for over one third of all homeowners’ liability claims. In 2015 alone, 28,000 victims underwent reconstructive surgery after being attacked. Hospital stays also jumped 86 percent between 1993 and 2008 resulting in a medical bill of at least $18,200. Of course, the costs have escalated over the years.

The types of claims possible in a dog bite case
There are two ways to file a dog bite claim in Texas: strict liability and negligence.

To proceed on a negligence claim, the victim/plaintiff has to prove that the dog’s owner (or the person caring for the dog) was negligent and that the owner’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The owner being negligent may involve an improperly restrained dog, an untrained or poorly trained dog or that the owner made very little effort to intervene during an attack.

Strict liability refers to the defendant/dog owner being responsible for injuries caused by his or her dog provided the victim/plaintiff proves the defendant/dog owner was the animal’s owner/possessor, that the dog in question had/has dangerous propensities compared to other dogs, that the owner/defendant knew or had reason to know the dog was dangerous and that the dangerous dog was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s/victim’s injuries.

Things to avoid when filing a dog bite claim
There are a number of things you need to avoid doing when dealing with a dog bite claim, such as:

Avoid settling too early – insurance companies want you to settle early for less than you could be awarded in court or a settlement. They push you to do that without giving you a chance to fully appreciate the extent of your injuries. Don’t give up your rights or you cannot recover later.
Forgetting to call the police or getting information from bystanders at the scene – if you cannot get information about the dog and owner, a claim becomes virtually impossible.
Do not talk to the insurance company – the insurance adjuster’s job centers on giving you as little as possible and using any information you may give them against you. Stay silent and refer them to your attorney.
Avoid misleading or not being honest with your lawyer – if we hear bad news from you, we can work with it. If we hear bad news from the insurance company, the damage is done and we cannot always rectify the situation.
Avoid putting off documenting your injuries and losses – the insurance company needs a record of them, the doctor could use it and your attorney can use it in court or in settlement proceedings
Avoid being dishonest with your doctor – the doctor may testify at the trial. If you have told him or her a fib, it does not help your case.
Not following the doctor’s recommendations relating to your injuries – insurance companies love finding out you did not follow doctor’s orders and this usually results in a reduction of your claim.
Judging your case as being similar to a friend’s claim – every case, detail and resolution is different. We cannot judge another case against yours as the details are going to be different.

Who can be sued in a Texas dog bite case?
While each dog bite case is different, there are a number of individuals who may be sued in a dog bite case, starting with the dog’s owner. However, there are other scenarios where other people may be sued as well, such as an individual caring for a dog, a landlord and/or a property management company. For instance, if a Texas landlord is able to control the renter’s premises and knows a dangerous dog is on the premises, then that person owes a duty of care to any individual injured by a dog bite.

What’s recoverable for dog bite claims
There are a number of things that a plaintiff/victim may recover in a successful dog bit claim and those include:
• Medical expenses – includes all care relating to the dog bite injury, including psychological services
• Pain – compensation for the pain you endured from the injury
• Mental anguish – recovery for the aftermath of the attack, such as nightmares, depression, nausea, anxiety, flashbacks of the attack
• Loss of earning capacity – if the attack affects your ability to work, you are entitled to damages for that loss
• Disfigurement – dog attacks often result in scarring and/or plastic surgery and you may recover the medical expenses incurred
• Physical impairment – if your ability to do various activities is hampered, such as taking care of the kids, doing chores, etc., you may recover compensation for these losses

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