Houston Dog Bite Attorneys Fighting for Dog Attack Victims
A dog bite lawyer fights for your rights when a negligent dog owner allows his dog to harm you or a loved one. There are different laws across the United States dictating whether a dog owner is liable for damages for an attack by their dog. If you have been attacked by a dog read this first: What Should I Do After a Do Attack?
Our State has some of the worst dog bite laws. If you are bitten or attacked by a dog through no fault of your own, call a Houston dog bite lawyer at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., Injury & Accident Lawyers to learn your rights today. Our team has helped hundreds of dog bite victims recover following a dog attack. Call us at 1-800-298-0111.
Why Hire Us?
There are many attorneys in Houston to choose from when you are injured. So ask yourself what you want from your dog bite lawyer. Here are just a few of the many reasons Texans have trusted their case to our law firm in Houston for over 40 years:
- Our attorneys have handled hundreds of dog bite cases.
- Attorney Paul H. Cannon has taught three continuing legal education courses on the subject of handling these types of cases nationwide and has been interviewed on TV about dog bite law.
- We understand the differences between the One Bite Rule, Strict Liability, and Negligence claims and when they apply.
- Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., has over a 40-year track record of fighting for injured victims in Houston.
- Free consultations and we charge no fees nor litigation expenses unless we win.
Do I Need to Hire a Dog Bite Lawyer in Houston, TX?
An experienced lawyer is often critical in establishing and proving the facts required to hold a dog owner liable in Houston. You need to hire 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.
How Much Does a Houston Dog Bite Attorney Cost?
Our attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. You pay nothing upfront and we do not charge any attorney’s fee unless we win your case.
Dog Bite Statistics
According to the United States Centers 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.
Dog Bite Law – Finding the Law
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 on premises liability. It is still the primary manner in which a negligent dog owner may be held responsible in 18 states including this one.
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 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 near you who knows how to research the correct laws for your area and apply them to your advantage.
What is the One Bite Rule?
The One Bite Rule is a rule of law used by many states that hold dog owners liable for their dog’s aggressive acts only after the owner has been given reason to know that the dog has abnormal vicious tendencies. If the dog has never bitten nor shown aggression towards a human, the owner has no duty to anticipate the first attack and thus, the first bite is free.
Because the dog owner typically will not admit to knowing their dog is vicious before the bite in question occurred, you need to gather evidence of a prior bite to prove that a reasonable dog owner would have recognized the risk. Since there is often no way to prove knowledge existed before the dog’s first bite, the first bite is basically free for the dog owner.
Origins of the One 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 a dog—he had a duty to protect and/or warn certain persons of the danger. This is called 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 any responsibility until the dog makes an unprovoked attack. Once the dog had attacked someone, the owner became charged with the knowledge, and a duty to protect or warn arose to prevent a second attack from occurring. But the first attack was free from any responsibility.
The One Bite Rule
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 win a case the victim must prove there were prior attacks or aggressive behavior that put the negligent dog owner on notice that the dog was dangerous. The burden of proof is on the person bringing the dog bite claim to show the owner was aware of the prior aggression. 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 dog bite attorney with the resources and knowledge to do the proper investigation.
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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 that causes 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, (which can be because the owner learned of an act of aggression or because the city may determine the dog dangerous by judicial finding) 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 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 he can claim a lack of knowledge that the dog was aggressive or had attacked anyone. Since the law only applies to “dangerous dogs,” there is no proactive restraint requirement imposed upon dogs that have not yet attacked anyone.
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.
What Are Dangerous Dog Laws?
Dangerous dog laws are ordinances and codes that give the government more power to deal with potentially dangerous animals. The State as well as several municipalities and counties, have adopted more stringent requirements for dogs with a bite history. They typically give animal control departments the power to register, remove, and put down dogs that have shown aggression.
Dangerous dog laws also impose greater restrictions on how you can keep a dangerous dog. Once a dog has been designated as such, the owner is required to keep the dog in a secure enclosure (as defined by the statutes) at all times and to post specific warnings as well as carry a minimum of $100,000 in canine liability insurance. The owner can be held strictly liable when their pet causes bodily injury whether or not he admits he knew the dog was dangerous.
What Are Leash Laws?
Leash laws are regulations created by cities to prevent animals from running at large. They are typically found in the city’s code of ordinances. 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 if he failed to use a leash.
Hiring a skilled Houston 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. A lawyer near you can help you make sense of a confusing situation.
What is Lillian’s Law?
Lillian’s law is a law that was enacted to stiffen the criminal penalties (i.e. more jail time) for persons found criminally negligent when their dog attacks someone resulting in serious injury or death. Lillian’s law is named after Lillian Stiles, a 76-year-old woman who was mauled to death by a pack of pitbull/rottweiler mixes that escaped from a 3-foot high fence in her neighbor down the street’s yard that came onto her property and attacked her while she was mowing the yard. Jose Hernandez, the dog’s owner, was indicted for criminally negligent homicide. The jury found him not guilty. This law only applies to dogs running at large and requires a very high burden of proof and 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. The full text of the law is found here.
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 a long way not only toward proving negligence but also toward establishing punitive damages against a grossly negligent or reckless animal owner. Our trial attorneys with years of experience handling dog bite claims know how to use these convictions to your advantage in your case for personal injuries and civil damages caused by a dog attack. Thus it is important to consult a lawyer to help navigate the civil and criminal laws who knows how to use them to fight for the compensation you deserve.
What is Negligent Handling of a Dog?
Negligent handling of a dog is the failure to prevent a dog that is not abnormally dangerous from biting when facts arise that should make a responsible dog owner aware that the dog is likely to attack. Some examples of this are tethering a dog around unknown people or allowing strangers around a dog that has recently given birth.
A cause of action for negligent handling of a dog is based upon the Restatement of Torts 518 which 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 a law in and of itself, but merely a statement of legal principles that have been accepted by some courts. However, 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:
- The defendant was the owner or possessor of the animal.
- The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others.
- The defendant breached his duty.
- The defendant’s breach was a proximate cause of injury.
Even if the one-bite rule does not apply, the owner may be liable under a negligent handling cause of action after a dog attack. The key in these cases is that something must trigger a duty to act that would not otherwise 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 the dog 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 that are not vicious tendencies could give rise to a negligent handling claim and you may be entitled to compensation. Thus, it is worth contacting a dog attack lawyer to discuss your legal options.
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. Dog attacks are often both physically and emotionally scarring to the victims. Some of the injuries commonly suffered as a result of a dog bite include:
- Minor Cuts. Minor lacerations, cuts, and scrapes from the dog’s teeth or from the victim trying to escape the dog are the most common and the least intrusive injuries that come from dog bites. They tend to be shallower than the deep puncture wounds canine teeth may cause when they clamp down or lock their jaw in some cases.
- Scarring and Disfigurement. Scars caused by dog bite wounds are extremely common in dog attack cases. Sadly canine teeth often slide deep and transfer potential infectious germs. As a result, doctors who treat dog bite wounds will typically not sew them shut to allow germs to escape so the wound does not become infected. This can cause the bite injury wounds to form excessive scar tissue and even keloid scars during the healing process. Learn more about types of scars.
- Bone Fractures. Some dogs have very powerful bites with a bite force severe enough to snap arm and leg bones, particularly when the attack victim is a child. Broken bones are not uncommon in dog bite cases.
- Eye Injury. Eye injuries are very common in situations when the person is leaning down to meet and/or pet a dog for the first time and the animal attacks because it is scared or spooked by something.
- Severed Digits. Amputation of fingers or toes can occur when the dog is snapping and the victim tries to defend themselves.
- Infection. Post-attack infection of the wound can occur if the wound is not properly cared for or if other bacteria get into the wound. This may be a minor infection or it may be as severe as a tetanus, rabies, sepsis, or staph infection.
- Torn Tendons and Ligaments. Injuries to the soft tissues that connect muscles and joints. These dog bite injuries may be as minor as a sprain/strain type injury or as severe as a ruptured or torn meniscus.
- Nerve Damage. Unfortunately, a deep enough bite in the wrong place can cause severe and permanent damage to the nerves. We commonly see this sort of injury when there are bites to the hands, arms, legs, and feet.
- Psychological Trauma. PTSD or Psychological trauma suffered by a dog bite victim is extremely common. It is a type of severe mental anguish that may manifest itself in nightmares, a fear of being around dogs, severe anxiety, and panic attacks. Extreme self-consciousness and feelings of embarrassment can often accompany severe scars, particularly on the face.
Less common injuries from dog attacks include:
- Death. Although wrongful death claims arising from animal attacks are rare, about 33 people are killed in dog attacks each year. If the owner was negligent and that led to the tragic loss of life, both civil and criminal penalties may apply. The family and the estate of the victim can seek compensation for the physical and emotional harm done, including emotional distress, pain and suffering, lost wages, medical care incurred, and other damages.
- Brain Injury. Again rare, but we have seen cases where people were knocked to the ground by dogs resulting in a concussion or TBI from the impact of their head hitting the ground.
Types Of Dog Attacks We Handle
Any breed of dog can cause an injury. Even the smallest chihuahua can nip at someone’s face causing severe permanent scarring under the wrong circumstances. Our Houston animal attack attorneys handle all types of dog attacks. It is important to speak to an attorney about your rights as soon as possible. Get in touch with us to discuss attacks involving any of the following dog breeds:
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Doberman Pinschers
- Great Danes
- Pit Bulls
- Chow Chows
- Presa Canarios
- German Shepherds
- Other Breeds
Frequently Asked Questions
Below please find answers to your most frequently asked questions in our dog bite FAQ. If you have other questions, please feel free to message us your questions a Houston animal attack lawyer from Simmons and Fletcher will answer them.
Which Animal Control Do I Call to Report the Bite?
It can be confusing in Houston because there are two different animal control departments. There is BARC and there is the Harris County Animal Control. Barc is generally for within Houston City Limits whereas Harris County Animal Control handles issues outside city limits. You can lean more and get their contact information here: Houston area animal control phone numbers.
What Are Common Reasons For Dog Bites Resulting In Liability in Houston?
Of the hundreds of dog bites we have handled in Texas, the most common reasons dog bites occur that result in liability on the part of the dog owner are as follows:
- Leaving the dog free to roam inside a home while a stranger is in the home and the dog gets scared or confused by their presence.
- Leaving an infant or toddler unattended or unwatched in a home or yard where there is an unrestrained dog present.
- Failing to secure gates, latches, or loose boards in fences which, in turn, allows a dog to escape.
- Failing to secure a dog before answering the door for a delivery driver or other stranger.
- Failing to keep one’s dog on a leash.
- Allowing a stranger to go near a dog that has recently given birth or had surgery.
If I Hire a Houston Animal Attack Attorney, Will I Have to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
A dog bite lawsuit does not always have to be filed. Many run-of-the-mill dog bite cases will settle without a lawsuit. However, in cases involving more severe injuries, it is often necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit to prove the dog owner liable and to prove the full value of the case. Also, it is sometimes necessary to file a lawsuit just to make the other side turn over a copy of their insurance policy. Lastly, if the victim is a minor, a “friendly lawsuit” will have to be filed in order to get court approval for any settlement of cases involving dog bites in Houston for sure and other jurisdictions will likely have similar rules. Even if a lawsuit must be filed, this does not mean that the case must go to trial. A large percentage of cases settle before the jury trial ever begins.
Contact Our Experienced Houston Dog Bite Injury 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 a result of being the victim of some sort of animal attack or your family member being the victim. 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 the goal of obtaining the recovery you deserve under the law. We have been representing dog bite victims for over two decades! The initial consultation with a lawyer is free and you pay nothing unless we win your case. So get a free case evaluation by calling 800-298-0111 today.
Other Helpful Resources
- How to declare a dog dangerous in Houston
- What recourse do I have if another dog attacks and injures my dog?
- Can homeowners’ insurance refuse to cover dog bites?
- What to do if your child is bitten by a dog?
What Our Clients Say
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., an actual client.