Who’s to Blame: The Dog or The Dog’s Owner?
In many cases a dog’s owner can be liable for injury the dog may cause. If the animal’s owner has homeowners insurance, it may pay for medical expenses.
When considering scarring, permanent damage and the emotional trauma associated with dog bites, an attorney who has won verdicts awarding damages to animal attack victims is a strong choice to help fight to get the full compensation a dog bite victim is entitled to under the law. If the injuries are to a small child, you must consider the possibility that they might need additional operations later in life to reduce scarring.
Texas Has “One Bite Rule”
This does not mean that the dog and its owner get the “first bite” free. What it means is that the case for liability must be proven to the courts. To receive compensation for the injury, the owner had to know the dog had bitten before or had tried to bite; therefore, the owner had knowledge of the dog’s behavior. (Restatement of Torts, Section 509)
The better case an attorney can make showing the owner had previous knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite, the more sympathy the court and jury might give the victim. The argument for the court is the degree in which the dog’s owner was negligent.
A loved one who was not actually bitten by a dog, but witnesses the attack, may also claim damages from mental anguish. It is demoralizing to watch a loved one ravaged by an aggressive dog or a pack of dogs.In order to claim an injury for mental anguish, the person must be closely related to the victim, possibly a parent or sibling. Also the injuries to the victim of the dog attack must be so severe as to cause major harm or result in the death of the victim.
There are dogs that bite, and then there are dogs that attack and maul their victims.
No matter how sweet and friendly a dog may be, they are all capable of biting. The bite reflex is just a reaction to something that either scared or startled them into aggression. Older dogs can be ailing or hard of hearing which can make them jumpy. Some dogs are only playing and nip or bite too hard, not realizing humans are fragile. Also, the more dogs in a group, the more likely they will exhibit the “fight or flight” instinct. Given that dogs are in the canine family, their response to threats, danger or over excitement is all too often: “fight.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there are 4.5 million people bitten by dogs in America every year. Of those, one half are children between the ages of 5 to 9. One in five dog bites is serious enough to require medical care. In 2012, 27,000 people needed reconstructive surgery to repair damage caused by dog bites.
What to Do If a Dog Bites
- Seek medical attention as soon as the dog bite occurs.
- Contact the police or animal control. Dogs that bite are required, under Texas law, to be quarantined for 10-days from the time of the bite. The quarantine might be allowed to happen at the owner’s home, a licensed dog care facility, or veterinarian’s office.
- Contact an attorney who can discuss the case and explain your options.
There are several different thresholds that a victim of a dog bite must prove to get relief by the courts.
The standard for determining if a dog owner is “negligent,” and, therefore, liable for the actions of their dog was established by the Texas courts, Allen ex rel, B.A. v Albin, 97 S.W. 3d 655, 665 (Tex. App.-Waco 202, no pet). “To recover on a negligent handling claim, a plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owned or possessed an animal;
- The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others;
- The defendant breached that duty; and
- The defendant’s breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.
Additionally, a landlord or landowner can also be found liable for the damages associated with a dog bite for permitting a dangerous dog to remain on their property. The Court of Appeals of Texas said the “landlord is liable for injuries caused by the attack of a tenant’s dog only where the landlord had actual knowledge of the dangerous propensities of the dog and where the landlord nevertheless leased the premises to the dog’s owner or, by the terms of the lease, had the power to control the harboring of a dog by the tenant and neglected to exercise that power.” (Casemaker Baker v. Pennoak Properties, Ltd., 874 S.W.2d 274, 277 (Tex. Ct. App. 1994).
Also, the courts have said that any violation in state, county or local municipal codes regarding animal control laws can be proof of the owner’s liability for the injuries caused by their dog. These laws and codes have been written for the purpose of allowing people to keep pets while protecting the rights of others. The dog’s owner has a “duty” to control the animal, and violating the law can be used as evidence that the owner is irresponsible and negligent.
In Texas, the dog’s owner may also have a defense for the dog bite under a legal theory called “comparative negligence.” This would allow the dog’s owner to argue they were only responsible for a portion of the injury and that the injured person was responsibility for the other part or their role in the injury. For example, if a child is holding a ham sandwich while petting a dog and the dog bites the child’s hand; the argument could be made that the dog is 75% to blame, and the child with the meaty treat is 25% at fault. These cases require skilled legal expertise to properly protect their client’s interests and make sure the victim is not unduly blamed.
If you or a loved one was injured by a dog, you need an attorney experienced in negotiating with insurance companies to get the compensation you deserve. If the insurance company refused to make a legitimate offer and you desire to seek relief with the court, you will definitely need the expertise of an aggressive attorney.