In the State of Texas, all dogs are not treated equal. Whether a dog owner can be held civilly liable for damages done by their dog depends often on what city or county the dog happens to be kept in. It is important that you know of what your county’s laws are so that you know your rights.
Texas Statewide Dangerous Dog Laws
The Texas Health and Safety Code sets forth the minimum laws that must be followed in Title 10 Chapter 822. These regulations pertain 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.
Knowledge of Dog’s Aggressive Behavior
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 he has 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 leash law or restraint requirement imposed upon dogs that have not yet attacked anyone.
The One Free Bite Rule
The State law is effectively a codification of the State common law which is commonly known as the “one free bite rule.” The name comes from the fact that under common law, a dog owner is charged with no duty to act to prevent a dog from biting someone unless and until that dog has bitten someone else—thereby putting the owner on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensity to attack. Indeed, the Texas statute, like the one free bite rule, gives each dog a free first bite before imposing a duty to act.
Municipal Dangerous Dog Codes
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 the propensities of the breed would be prohibited.
Many Texas municipalities and counties have enacted their own laws. As a general rule of thumb, county laws only apply in areas that are unincorporated or cities where no municipal leash or dangerous dog laws have been enacted. Laws enacted by counties and municipalities tend to fall into 2 categories. 1) Dangerous dog laws and 2) leash laws.
Tomball Dangerous Dog Code
Tomball has both a dangerous dog law and a leash law. The dangerous dog law in Tomball, however, does little more than grant city health and humane offices the power to determine a dog “vicious” and then require that it be kept in an enclosure and caged or muzzled when moved. This law really places no more new obligations on the part of the dog owner than the State law. (see Tomball code of Ordinances 10-42.)
Tomball Leash Laws
The leash law, Tomball Code of Ordinances 10-41, requires that “all dogs and cats shall be kept under restraint The definition of “restraint’ allows for dogs to be on a line or leash of no more than 6 feet, in a car, or on the owner/keepers premises so long as the dog does not have access to a sidewalk or street. Section 10-43 purports to hold an owner “responsible for any behavior of a dog or cat under the provisions of these rules.” This leash law is very important to know about if you are attacked by a dog. The State law and common law one-bite rule would allow a dog that is a first-time offender to get off completely free. However, the Tomball leash law arguably places a greater duty on the owner to make sure his dog never gets free, irrespective of whether the dog has done so before or not.
Unfortunately, no court case has tested the usefulness of the Tomball leash law in the context of a civil personal injury case. Whether courts will allow this general statement that the owner is “responsible for any behavior” to mean civilly responsible and not just criminally responsible remains to be seen. It is, without a doubt, an argument worth making.
If you need to talk to a dog attack lawyer about the city of Tomball’s leash or dangerous dog laws, please call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. at 713-932-0777 for a free consultation.