Once Again, Houston Leads the Country in Postal Worker Dog Attacks
May 13th, 2019
For the second year in a row, there were more letter carrier dog bite incidents in the Bayou City than any other place in America.
Three other Texas cities (Dallas, San Antonio, and Fort Worth) were also in the top ten. But none of these municipalities came close to the seventy-five letter carrier dog bites in Houston in 2018. To stem the tide of animal attacks, the USPS is trying technology, such as “package pickup” applications and mobile delivery devices. The USPS has also passed some special rules. For example, if a letter carrier feels threatened by a dog, s/he can require the resident to pick up the package at the local post office. “Our employees have been great at taking preventative measures against dog attacks, but they need help from our customers, too,” remarked USPS Safety Director Linda DeCarlo.
“We are confident that we can keep moving the trends of attacks downward, and ramping up overall awareness for everyone is the best way to do that,” she added.
Dog Bite Injuries in Harris County
In movies and TV shows, dog bites are often humorous incidents. But the reality is far, far different.
Many dog bite victims in Texas are young children. These individuals are much more prone to the serious physical and emotional injuries outlined below. The problem is even more widespread than that. Animal attack injuries are one of the leading causes of homeowners’ insurance claims. Furthermore, as injury treatment advances, the average dog bite settlement value has shot up 76 percent since 2003.
Especially if a large dog is involved, the knockdown alone often breaks bones. Then, once the dog bites, its teeth usually cause both deep puncture wounds and severe tearing lacerations. These kinds of physical injuries often require extensive, and costly, reconstructive surgery. Then, most victims must endure months of post-surgery physical therapy away from their homes.
Dog bites cause other psychological injuries besides homesickness. Many victims experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms, such as:
- Heightened awareness (an unnatural fear of all dogs),
- Nightmares, and
- Avoidance (staying away from the area where the bite occurred).
PTSD is not a “processing disorder.” It is a physical brain injury. So, the injury itself is always permanent. However, extensive physical therapy can alleviate the symptoms.
The One-Bite Rule
Texas still uses the common law one free bite rule. Liability under the one free bite rule can be tricky sometimes. Animal owners in Texas are not liable for bite injuries unless they knew that the animal was potentially dangerous.
The one-bite rule has an important loophole. According to the Texas Supreme Court, owners are liable for damages if they fail to stop an attack in progress. This liability attaches even if the victim cannot establish responsibility under the one-bite rule.
This loophole is not easy to prove. Most of these attacks happen so fast that it’s difficult for owners to stop them. Furthermore, the owner is often not around. However, when around the owner, a well-trained dog should respond to a verbal command or a yank on the leash.
If neither the one-bite rule or the attack-in-progress loophole apply, dog bite victims may still have legal options.
Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary or statutory care. A lack of care is usually called ordinary negligence; violation of a leash law or other statute is called negligence per se.
Non-owners are often negligent. For example, if a daycare teacher allows children to play near a strange animal, that teacher is probably negligent. There are also some special dog bite negligence provisions in Texas law. Landlord liability is a good illustration. If the landlord has actual or constructive knowledge (knew or should have known) that an animal on the premises was dangerous, and an attack occurred in a parking lot or other common area, the landlord may be liable for damages.
Additionally, most Texas municipalities have very strict animal restraint ordinances, like leash laws and fence requirements. Under the negligence per se rule, dog owners are liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s injuries.
In the absence of these laws, victim/plaintiffs may rely on the less-restrictive dog restraint requirements in the Health and Safety Code.
Harris County has a real problem with negligent owners not controlling their dogs so that postal workers can do their jobs safely. Postal workers should not have to deal with aggressive dogs running at large. Owners need to take more responsibility for their dogs and the laws need to be made more strict so as to promote this. If you or someone you know were injured, contact Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for a free consultation to learn your rights.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.