Houston Dog Bite Attorney
Houston Dog Bite Lawyer
Animal attack cases are not uncommon in Texas. Dog attacks tend to be the ones most commonly seen by our firm. These cases can be tricky for an inexperienced attorney because
- 1) the laws are not in one central location so finding the applicable law takes some research, and;
- 2) determining who is responsible and whether there is coverage can be difficult.
While most pets behave appropriately and normally do not pose a threat to us, there are instances when through the negligence of a pet owner (or through the failure of that individual to follow the law) people end up injured (and sometimes seriously so) as the result of animal attacks.
Finding the Law
Dog and pet owner liability law has been a constantly evolving and changing area. The traditional rule of the Common Law, was based in premises liability. It still applies in some places, particularly in rural areas. Most major cities and many smaller ones as well, however, have enacted more strict ordinances such as “dangerous dog” codes or “leash laws” which place a higher burden of care on the dog owner. There is also a statewide law now, known as “Lillian’s Law” that creates criminal responsibility in certain circumstances when a dog owner allows a known dangerous dog to run at large. If you have been injured due to an unprovoked attack by someone else’s animal, you need a dog bite lawyer who knows how to research the correct laws for your area and apply them to your advantage. At Simmons and Fletcher, we have handled numerous dog bite and animal attack cases and we have the skills to find the laws that may assist your specific case.
Common Law – the One Free Bite Rule
Under traditional Common Law, the liability of a landowner for an animal attack arose out of premises liability. If a landowner was aware of a dangerous condition on his property—including an animal—he had a duty to protect and/or warn certain persons of the danger. Out of this arose what became known as the “One Free Bite Rule.” Until a dog displayed hostile behavior toward a person, the owner was basically relieved of responsibility if he attacked someone unprovoked. Once the dog had attacked someone, the owner became charged with the knowledge and a duty to protect or warn arose.
This law is still in effect. Because the burden of proving knowledge can be very difficult, this is the hardest way to make a case against an irresponsible pet owner. In order to prove a case, you must generally find evidence of prior attacks or aggressive behavior. Contacting the local animal control department is one resource we use to research prior attacks and bites by a pet. Often people who live in the neighborhood will have knowledge of other times the dog has escaped and attacked people or displayed aggression. Witness interviews can be critical early on before the events fade or persons with knowledge move away. It is important that you have an animal attack attorney who with the resources and knowledge to the proper investigation.
State Of Texas Dangerous Dog Law
The Texas Health and Safety Code sets forth the minimum laws that must be followed in Title 10 Chapter 822. These regulations pertain only to “dangerous dogs.” A “dangerous dog” is defined as a dog that has made an unprovoked attack on a person causing bodily injury in a place other than a qualified enclosure, or; the dog commits unprovoked acts other than from inside a qualified enclosure and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person. Texas Health and Safety Code 822.041(2). Once an owner learns the dog is dangerous, he is required to register the dog with animal control and restrain the dog at all times. Failure to do so can result in both civil and criminal responsibility. Texas Health and Safety Code 822.044.
The Texas law contains a glaring flaw. If the owner has no knowledge of a prior attack or qualifying acts of aggressiveness that make someone perceive an attack as likely, the law simply does not apply. Thus, a person can keep any type of dog he likes on his property and claim a lack of knowledge that the dog was aggressive or had attacked anyone. This is true even if the dog is a pit bull trained as a fighting dog fight. Furthermore, since the law only applies to “dangerous dogs,” there is no proactive restraint requirement imposed upon dogs that have not yet attacked anyone. The State law is effectively just a codification of the State common law One Free Bite Rule.
The Texas Health and Safety Code allows municipalities and counties to enact their own more stringent dog laws, however, it prohibits the enactment of laws that are breed-specific laws. Thus, a law stating that pit bull owners or rottweiler owners are charged with knowledge that their dog is dangerous by virtue of it’s breed would be prohibited. This is precisely why we need breed-specific legislation in Texas.
Dangerous Dog and Leash Laws
Several municipalities and counties have adopted more stringent requirements for pet owners to prevent animals running at large or being left unattended. Dangerous dog laws are ordinances and codes that give the municipality more power to deal with potentially dangerous animals. They typically give animal control departments the power to register, remove and put down dogs that have shown aggression or that are known dangerous breeds. Determining the breed of the dog that attacked you can be very important because it may play a role in what specific requirements the municipality places on the owner in question. Some of these laws place higher duties of care on the owners, including strict liability for damage done by a known dangerous dog or breed.
Leash laws are similar to dangerous dog laws. They are laws created by municipalities to prevent dogs from running at large. Depending on the city, the leash law may be as strict as to impose absolute responsibility on the dog owner if the animal is off a leash anywhere except an enclosed space or as flexible as to only recognize a violation where the owner knowingly allows the dog to run at large. These laws may, in some cases, give an injured person anoother way to hold an irresponsible pet owner responsible.
Having a skilled dog bite/animal attack attorney who knows how to find and apply these municipal codes and ordinances that apply to your case can make the difference between winning and losing your case. At Simmons and Fletcher, our attorneys will research the laws applicable to your case fight for your rights to the fullest extent under the law.
Lillian’s law is named after Lillian Stiles, a 76 year old woman who was mauled to death by a pack of pit bull/rottweiler mixes that escaped from a 3 foot high fence in her neighbor-down-the-street’s yard, came onto her property and attacked her while she was mowing the yard. Jose Hernandez, the dogs’ owner, was indicted for criminally negligent homicide. The jury found him not guilty. Lillian’s law was enacted to stiffen the criminal penalties (i.e. more jail time) for persons found criminally negligent when their animal attacks someone resulting in serious injury or death. This law only applies to dogs running at large and requires a very high burden of proof---the prosecutor must show the owner should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that someone would be seriously injured or killed by his dog.
Lillian’s Law becomes important when the owner is convicted by the State under this law. It is a felony. Evidence of this conviction can go along way not only towards proving negligence, but also towards establishing punitive damages against a grossly negligent or reckless animal owner. Our dog bite attorneys know how to use these convictions to your advantage in your case for civil damages and personal injuries caused by a dog attack.
The above issues demonstrate why you need an experienced premises liability lawyer advising you if you have been injured as a result of negligence. Our firm handles a large number of premises liability cases such as:
- Slip and falls
- Apartment complex injury
- Railing and balcony accidents
- Swimming pool accidents and drowning
- Amusement park accidents
- Carnival ride accidents
- Trip and falls
- Dog bites/animal attacks
- Falling objects
- Negligent security
- Construction site accidents
- Spider bite injury
- Falls down stairs
- Sports injury
We handle all types of dog attacks including:
- Siberian Huskies
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Doberman Pinschers
- Great Danes
- St. Bernards
- Pit Bulls
- Chow Chows
- Presa Canarios
- German Shepards
- Other Breeds
At Simmons & Fletcher, we appreciate that we are living in the midst of very difficult economic times. Moreover, we understand that your own financial situation may have become more complex and challenging as the result of being the victim of some sort of animal attack. Therefore, we never charge a fee unless and until we obtain a judgment or settlement on your behalf. Don’t be a victim any longer. Call us today to talk to a dog bite lawyer or animal attack lawyer who is skilled enough to determine what laws apply to your case and is ready to fight for your rights to obtain the maximum recovery you are entitled to under the law.
The initial consultation is free.