Houston Dog Bite Lawyer
Texas Dog Bite Attack Cases
At Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., we have seen the serious physical and emotional scars suffered by our clients as a result of a dog owner’s negligence. We have helped hundreds of dog attack victims recover following an attack. With over 40 years of experience. If you have been attacked by a dog, before doing anything else, you should read this: What Should I Do After a Dog Attack?. We have the experience you need to help you with your case. Call us for a free no obligation consultation today. Our dog bite attorney, Paul Cannon, has been asked to speak and educate other personal injury attorneys on how to handle dog bite cases. Who better to handle your case than an attorney other law firms call for guidance?
Below is a guide by Paul Cannon for dog bite victims in Texas. What to do, laws and what to expect.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite over 4.7 million victims every year in the United States with roughly 800,000 people having to seek medical attention. Of those, roughly half of them are children. 386,000 require treatment in an emergency room. When this happens to you, a lawyer can help.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer After a Dog Attack?
You need to hire a an attorney experienced in dog bites, who has experience handling dog bite cases. These cases can be tricky for an inexperienced attorney because:
- the laws are not in one central location so finding the applicable law takes some research, and;
- determining who is responsible and whether there is coverage can be difficult.
Finding the Law and Dog Bite Legislation
Dog and pet owner liability law has been a constantly evolving and changing area. The traditional rule of the Common Law known as the “One Free Bite Rule” or “One Bite Rule” for short, was based in premises liability. It is still the primary manner of holding negligent dog owners responsible in the State of Texas as well as 17 other States. 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. 32 States have enacted strict liability statutes for dog bites.
If you have been injured due to an 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.
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” or “One Bite Rule for short. 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 a Houston based dog bite 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.
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 another way to hold an irresponsible pet owner responsible.
Hiring a skilled Texas dog bite attorney who knows how to find and apply these municipal codes and ordinances can make the difference between winning and losing your case.
What is Lillian’s 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. A dog bite attorney knows how to use these convictions to your advantage in your case for civil damages and personal injuries caused by a dog attack.
Even if the one bite rule does not apply, there may be liability on the part of the owner under a negligent handling cause of action. Negligent handling is the failure to prevent a dog that is not abnormally dangerous from causing harm when the facts support a duty to do so. based upon the Restatement of Torts 518 that states:
“Except for animal trespass, one who possesses or harbors a domestic animal that he does not know or have reason to know to be abnormally dangerous, is subject to liability for harm done by the animal if, but only if he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm.”
The Restatement of Torts is not law in and of itself, but merely a statement of legal principles that have been accepted by some courts. However, Texas Courts have used this to define a cause of action for the negligent handling of a dog. The elements of a Negligent handling claim are:
- Defendant was owner or possessor of the animal.
- Defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others.
- Defendant breached the duty.
- Defendant’s breach was a proximate cause of injury.
The key in these cases, is that something must trigger a duty to act that would not other wise be there. For example, if a dog is injured or nursing pups, one should know better than to send a stranger out in the yard with it. Because of these circumstances, a dog owner should be on alert that even a dog that has not shown any vicious propensities abnormal to its class, might become aggressive toward a stranger invading the dog’s space. Another example: A person who has a large dog that he knows jumps up on everyone it meets ought to be on notice not to let the dog run free in a retirement community. Allowing such a dog to do so, even those these are not vicious tendencies could give rise to a negligent handling claim.
Common Injuries from Dog Attacks
Dog attacks can result in severe and permanent injuries, particularly when the dog involved is powerful and/or has been trained to fight or attack people. Some of the injuries commonly suffered as a result of a dog bite include:
- Broken Bones
- Injury to the eyes (dogs often go for the face or throat)
- Amputation of fingers or toes
Any attack can be not just physically but also emotionally scarring.
Types Of Dog Attacks
We handle all types of dog attacks including:
- Siberian Huskies
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Doberman Pinschers
- Great Danes
- St. Bernards
- Pit Bulls
- Chow Chows
- Presa Canarios
- Other Breeds
Contact Our Experienced Texas Dog Bite Lawyers
At Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., 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 for a free consultation with a lawyer who is skilled in dog bites, the laws , and able to fight for your rights. With a goal of obtaining maximum recovery under the law. The initial consultation with a lawyer is free and you pay nothing unless we win your case.
- How to declare a dog dangerous in Houston.
- Katy Municipal Codes relevant to dog bite law
- Tomball leash laws may help to make up for inadequacies in Texas dog attack laws.
- Sample Open Records Request for dog bite incident reports.
- Insurance issues in Texas dog bite cases.
- What should I do after a dog attack?
- What recourse do I have if another dog attacks and injures my dog?
- Can homeowner’s insurance refuse to cover dog bites?
Animal Control Numbers
- Houston area animal control phone numbers.
- Katy area animal control phone numbers.
- Galveston area animal control phone numbers.
- Montgomery County animal control numbers.
- Austin area animal control phone numbers.
- Dallas area animal control phone numbers.
- Fort Worth area animal control phone numbers.
- San Antonio area animal control phone numbers.
Our Attorney, Paul H. Cannon, Interview Regarding Dog Park Dangers
If you would like to read more about dog attack cases and dog bite law, please visit our dog bite section of our blog here.
Actual Client Review
Review: 5/5 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ” Simmons and Fletcher was a very nice and friendly law firm from the moment I went in for my initial consult. A big thank you to all of them for hearing me out and agreeing to take on my claim. The process was easy and painless. Alicia did a magnificent job at keeping me updated regarding my case. Simmons and Fletcher comes highly recommended by me.” – Irma G., actual client.
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.