As a property owner, you have certain responsibilities to ensure the safety of anyone who enters your land. Failure to uphold these responsibilities can have legal consequences if harm occurs on your property. Dog bites are one potential hazard, even if you do not own the dog yourself. If a dog bites someone on your property, you may face liability and even legal claims regarding the incident. It is important to understand the laws around dog bites and property owner liability in order to avoid a lawsuit.
Dog Bite Liability in Texas: Premises Liability Law
In Texas, property owners can be held liable for dog bites under premises liability law. This means that if a dog bites someone on the owner's property, the victim may be able to recover damages by suing the property owner.
Liability Depends on Victim's Legal Status
The property owner's liability depends on the legal status of the victim at the time of the bite. Invitees, or guests the owner invites onto the property, are owed the highest duty of care. Property owners must warn invitees of any dangerous conditions, including aggressive dogs, on the premises. If an invitee is bitten, the owner may be found negligent.
Licensees, or those the owner allows on the property, must also be warned of unreasonable risks the owner is aware of, including vicious dogs. However, trespassers who enter the property unlawfully are owed no duty of care. Property owners will typically not be liable if a trespasser is bitten, unless the owner acted intentionally or with gross negligence.
Owner's Knowledge of Dog's Aggressive Behavior
A property owner can also be found liable if they knew or should have known their dog had aggressive or vicious tendencies, but failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent bites. This includes properly containing the dog, posting 'Beware of Dog' signs, or giving verbal warnings. The key factor is whether the owner had prior knowledge the dog might attack, not whether the dog had actually bitten someone before.
By understanding premises liability law and taking appropriate action, property owners can limit their liability in the event of a dog bite. The best way to avoid liability is to not own an aggressive breed, properly contain dogs, post clear warnings about any dogs on site, and have a written policy on how to handle dangerous animals. Property owners who act responsibly and take reasonable care to prevent dog bites will have a strong defense against liability claims.
When Is a Property Owner Liable for a Dog Bite?
As a property owner, you could potentially be held liable for injuries caused by a dog bite on your premises. There are a few circumstances where a property owner may be found negligent:
Owner Knew of the Dog's Aggressive Tendencies
If the property owner was aware that the dog had aggressive or vicious propensities and failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent an attack, they could be found liable. This includes if the owner knew the dog had bitten or attempted to bite someone before. In these cases, the owner should have restrained the dog or warned visitors about its aggression.
Failure to Properly Restrain the Dog
Property owners have a duty to take reasonable care to restrain dogs on their premises. If an unrestrained dog attacks and injures someone, the property owner may be liable for damages. This is especially true if the owner knew or should have known that the dog might act aggressively if unrestrained. Properly restraining a dog includes keeping it in an enclosed area like a fenced yard, keeping it on a leash, or otherwise physically controlling the dog.
Strict Liability Laws
Some states have enacted strict liability laws for dog bites, meaning a property owner can be held liable even without a showing of negligence. The victim only needs to prove the dog bite occurred on the owner's property. However, strict liability may not apply if the victim provoked the dog or was trespassing. Property owners in strict liability states should take extra precautions to prevent dog bites.
By being aware of these liability scenarios, property owners can take appropriate measures to reduce the risks of a dog bite lawsuit. Proper restraint, training, and control of dogs on the premises are the best ways for owners to avoid legal trouble.
Exceptions to Premises Liability in Dog Bite Cases
As a property owner, you may be liable for injuries caused by a dog bite on your premises. However, there are certain exceptions to premises liability law that may protect you in dog bite cases.
If the victim provoked the dog, you may not be held liable. Provocation includes teasing, tormenting, abusing or assaulting the animal. Simply walking by a dog or inadvertently startling a dog does not constitute provocation. The provocation must be intentional and directly responsible for the attack.
If the victim was trespassing on your property at the time of the attack, you may avoid liability. The trespasser assumes the risk of injury from hazards on the property, including aggressive dogs. However, you must have properly secured your dog and posted “Beware of Dog” signs for this defense to apply.
Assumption of Risk
In some cases, the victim may have assumed the risk of injury from an aggressive dog. For example, if a utility worker entered a fenced yard after seeing “Beware of Dog” signs, a court may find that the worker assumed the risk. The victim must have been aware of the risk, understood the nature of the risk, and voluntarily exposed themselves to the risk for this defense to succeed.
If the victim was partially at fault for the attack due to their own negligence, you may avoid complete liability. For example, if a visitor provoked your dog after being warned to avoid contact, a court may find contributory negligence. Your liability may be reduced in proportion to the victim's degree of fault in this scenario.
In summary, while property owners can typically be held liable for dog bites on their premises, there are defenses available in certain situations involving provocation, trespassing, assumption of risk, or contributory negligence by the victim. However, the specific details of the incident and applicable laws in your jurisdiction will determine if any of these exceptions apply.
Steps to Take After a Dog Attack on Private Property in Austin
If you or a loved one has been attacked by a dog on private property in Austin, there are important steps you should take immediately following the incident.
Seek Medical Attention
Your health and safety should be your top priority. Visit an emergency room or call 911 for emergency responders right away. Dog bites can become severely infected if left untreated. Get the wound cleaned and evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Report the Incident to Authorities
File a report with the Austin Police Department and Animal Control. Provide details about the attack including the address where it occurred, description of the dog, and contact information for the property owner. Authorities will investigate the incident and determine if the dog should be declared dangerous.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Although Texas follows the “one bite rule” in which a property owner is typically not liable for the first bite, you may still be eligible for compensation. An experienced attorney can investigate who is responsible for the attack and advise you of your legal options. They can also help collect evidence from the scene, obtain witness statements, and take photographs of your injuries.
Consider Filing a Lawsuit
If the property owner was negligent in properly containing a dangerous dog, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. Your attorney can determine if you have a viable case and help you pursue legal action against the responsible parties to recover damages related to your injuries, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
By taking these critical actions after a dog attack, you can help hold the negligent parties accountable, gain compensation for your damages, and prevent future attacks. An attorney is equipped to handle the legal complexities involved with such a case and fight to get you the outcome you deserve.
Contact an Austin Dog Bite Lawyer for Help With Your Claim
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog on someone else’s property, the property owner may be liable for damages. As a dog bite victim, you have certain rights and may be entitled to compensation. Consulting with an experienced Austin dog bite lawyer is advisable to better understand your legal options.
Property Owner Negligence
Property owners have a duty to take reasonable measures to prevent foreseeable harm to individuals on their property. Failure to properly contain a dog or warn visitors about an aggressive animal could be considered negligence. If the owner knew or should have known the dog had vicious propensities, they can be held accountable for injuries.
Strict Liability Laws
Texas has strict liability laws for dog bites, meaning the owner is liable regardless of whether they knew the dog was dangerous or not. The victim only needs to prove the owner kept the dog and it bit them without provocation.
Settlement Offers and Lawsuits
In some situations, a fair settlement offer may be made to avoid litigation. However, if an acceptable offer is not forthcoming, filing a lawsuit may be necessary. A lawyer can handle all legal matters, including:
- Conducting witness interviews and evidence collection
- Calculating current and future damages
- Filing necessary court documents
- Negotiating with insurance companies
- Taking the case to trial if needed
Dog bite claims can be complex, so having a dedicated legal advocate in your corner is critical. An Austin dog bite lawyer will fight to hold negligent owners accountable and secure maximum compensation for your injuries.
Call Fletcher Law To Get Started With Your Dog Bite Case
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries. Property owners can be held liable for dog bites in many cases. Contacting an experienced dog bite injury lawyer is the best way to determine if you have a viable claim.
Call Fletcher Law Firm to Discuss Your Legal Options
The attorneys at Fletcher Law Firm have been representing victims of dog attacks for over 20 years. We will evaluate your claim free of charge and advise you on the merits of your case. If we believe the property owner was negligent in preventing the attack, we will handle the legal proceedings from start to finish. You can focus on recovering from your injuries knowing your rights are being protected.
Some of the factors we consider when determining liability in a dog bite case include:
•Did the owner know the dog had vicious propensities? If the dog had attacked before, the owner had a duty to take precautions.
•Was the dog adequately contained? In many areas, owners must keep dogs restrained on their property. Failure to do so can constitute negligence.
•Were there “Beware of Dog” signs posted? Signage can indicate the owner was aware of the potential danger. However, signs alone do not absolve an owner of liability.
•Was the victim lawfully on the property? While trespassing individuals may not be able to recover damages, invitees like postal workers, utility workers, and neighbors can.
•Did the owner maintain proper insurance? Homeowner’s insurance policies typically provide coverage for dog bite liability claims. We can help file a claim with the insurer to recover damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and permanent injuries.
To get started with your dog bite case and find out if the property owner should be held accountable, call Fletcher Law Firm today for a free, no-obligation case review. We work on contingency, so you pay nothing up front. Don’t delay—statutes of limitations apply, so time is of the essence.