In recent years, the prevalence of dog attacks has increased. In Houston, Texas alone, there were 1,283 dog bites reported by the start of 2022, and an estimated 15,000 dog bites occurred in 2021. Most of these fatal dog attacks are inflicted on children and the elderly.
There were many personal injury cases of dog bites. While most people fight for their rights, some people, however, choose not to go through the pains of litigation, but at what cost? Erroneous out-of-court settlements? Unfair assessment of claims? Inaccurate determination of liability?
This is why a victim needs to realize that hiring a dog bite attorney will solve all his legal problems while focusing on his recovery.
But once a dog bite victim is convinced that he needs the assistance of a dog bite attorney, does he know exactly when to sue? Is it still within the allowable period to file a personal injury claim?
This article will help you plan your legal options with a dog bite attorney.
Read on to learn when is the right time to sue a dog owner or keeper after a vicious dog attack!
The One Bite Rule
You cannot immediately sue a dog owner or keeper after its first bite in Houston, Texas.
Unlike other states, Texas adheres to the One Bite Rule. This doctrine only holds a dog owner or keeper liable if the dog previously attacked another person. You can only recover compensation if both of these requirements are met: first, upon proof that the dog once bit another person or exhibited signs of aggression and violence towards a person, and second, upon evidence of the dog owner’s knowledge of the dog’s conduct or behavior before the attack. Without these conditions, your damage claim against the dog owner may fail.
However, there are known exceptions to the One Bite Rule, such as if the liability of the dog owner or keeper is based upon knowledge, intentional behavior, or negligence.
Absent such exceptions, you will have difficulty proving your side of the story. Since there are a lot of personal injury cases of dog bites nowadays, this makes your plight as the dog bite victim more burdensome.
More importantly, remember that claiming compensation or damages is an evidentiary matter.
It is thus crucial to find a reputable dog bite attorney that will best represent your case before you make a mistake that can adversely affect your legal rights.
Proving Knowledge (or “Scienter”) of the Dog Owner
Due to the One Bite Rule, dog bite victims are disadvantaged because this rule protects a dog owner from liability unless certain conditions are met.
You might have difficulty knowing if the dog has a history of violent behavior if the dog did not bite someone before. However, there is a better time to be discouraged.
The dog’s prior conduct may be proven through myriad ways, including the owner’s awareness of the dog’s aggressive tendencies due to its breed, sex, size, or personality.
One Bite Rule is actually a misnomer.
Take note that the law only requires proof that the dog either bit another person in the past or showed signs of aggression early on. This means that the One Bite Rule does not always require a bite from the dog to put the owner on notice of the dog’s dangerous tendencies.
If the dog aggressively barks or lunges at you while on a leash by its owner, this is considered a display of violent behavior. The owner is thus put on notice that his dog has vicious tendencies towards other people even before the attack.
If the dog that bit you is a guard dog trained to attack, its dangerous tendencies are readily apparent to the owner. No argument may refute that unless you provoked the dog or trespassed on the property during the attack. The same can be said for dogs known for their viciousness, such as Pit Bulls or Rottweilers.
If this is the kind of dog that bites you, you may undoubtedly hold the dog owner or keeper liable.
In reality, however, there are a lot of defenses that a dog owner can make to escape liability. This is why you need to hire the best dog bite attorney in Houston, Texas!
To prove that the dog owner is negligent in handling his dog, you must prove the following:
- The defendant owned or possessed the dog;
- The defendant is obliged to exercise that degree of care which a reasonable and prudent man employs to prevent harm or injury to others or their property;
- The defendant breached that duty; and
- The defendant’s breach approximately caused the harm or injury.
Proof of the dog owner’s Negligence may be proven in different ways, including eyewitness testimonies, violation of animal control laws, photographs or videos during the attack, and evidence of prior attacks or dangerous tendencies.
If there are witnesses to the attack, they may be able to testify that the owner failed to put his dog on a leash in a public area or failed to keep the dog under his control.
If the dog owner fails to provide proper containment or other means to restrain the dog, you may take photos or videos of the area.
These may help you show that the dog owner was indeed negligent.
Having to experience a dog attack may be traumatic enough, but dealing with factual and evidentiary matters in negligence cases is entirely a different story. This is where your dog bite attorney can be very helpful.
Proving Negligence based on Violation of the Animal Control Law
Like any other city, Houston, Texas, has an existing leash law.
Under the Houston Municipal Code, a dog owner or any other possessor must see that the dog does not “run at large.” “Running at large” is defined as allowing the dog to be on public or private property without the owner or handler having “direct physical control” of the animal. This is a strict liability law. In simpler terms, violation of this statute can establish Negligence per se without regard to the dog owner’s intention.
Negligence per se is essential to the case of dog bite victims because it provides a legal avenue for them to recover damages.
You just have to prove that the dog owner violated the local leash law and the violation caused you to suffer injuries.
For instance, if you can show that the dog owner did not have direct physical control of his dog during the attack and due to his non-observance of the local leash law, the dog bit you and severely caused your injuries, then you may recover compensation.
Having to endure long-term treatments for a dog bite injury while battling a legal problem is not a walk in the park. It requires adequate time, serious effort, and other valuable resources.
This is yet another reason why you need a dog bite attorney on your side. You do not want to go into a full-blown trial without a knowledgeable attorney.
Statute of Limitations
Knowing which laws and rules of liability apply — whether through one bite rule, strict liability, or negligence — is crucial in dog bite injury cases.
In the state of Texas, dog bite victims have a period of two years from the date of the incident to file a personal injury claim. Otherwise, the claim is barred forever. As a result, you will not be able to recover damages.
While two years may seem like a long time, chances are it will slip your mind while in recovery, and you will not be able to take back the remedy lost if you fail to file your claim within two years. Once the two-year period lapses, you will not have the slightest chance to get compensation.
Hire a Dog Bite Attorney Now
So why hire a dog bite attorney? This question is a no-brainer.
A dog bite attorney is capable of many things. After a dog attack, a dog bite attorney will investigate the incident and gather all sorts of evidence that will support your claim. In addition, a dog bite attorney will negotiate with the dog owner’s insurance company on your behalf and make sure that you will receive the maximum compensation you deserve from the attack.
Filing a personal injury claim means dealing with experienced negotiators who are paid primarily to protect the insurance company from adverse losses by paying out huge amounts of compensation to dog bite victims. In other words, insurance companies tend to avoid paying personal injury claims.
Furthermore, if the case is not settled pre-litigation, then it will lead to a full-blown trial.
This is all the more reason why you need to hire a competent dog bite attorney. Having an attorney by your side is in your best interest.
What are you waiting for?