What happens if a dog bites someone on your property?
This is the most common question dog owners frequently encounter but rarely get the correct answer to. The answer is, as a general rule, the dog owner is primarily liable for all the injuries sustained by a dog bite victim unless the dog owner exercises due diligence in preventing his dog from causing injuries.
What if someone is a family member, a guest, or a trespasser? What are some defenses that the dog owner can present? Will he be principally liable? These are some of the most critical questions a dog owner will come across.
This is where a dog bite attorney can be of great assistance — from being your personal advocate to being a skilled negotiator with various adjusters of insurance companies.
Here is all the information you need to know after your dog attacks someone on your property.
Family Members, Invited Guests, and Trespassers
If your dog bites one of your immediate family members, relatives, or friends, you are accountable for their injuries because the dog’s proper training and control rests on you. You must shoulder all expenses from medical bills, such as plastic surgery, pain medications and antibiotics, recovery, and even non-economic damages, including but not limited to emotional suffering, mental distress, and loss of quality of life.
If your dog attacks an invited guest, you are responsible if you fail to exercise due diligence. What, then, are some examples of negligent dog owners? Let’s take a look at a few examples of what negligent dog owners do:
- Leashing the dog improperly
- Exposing the dog to strangers despite his knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies
- Failing to supervise the dog around other people
- Containing the dog in unsuitable places or an inappropriate manner
- Failing to post warning signs such as “Beware of Dogs” if needed
- Leaving the gates or fences open
These are some of the very few shortcomings of a dog owner which cause severe dog bite injuries.
Suppose your dog mauls a trespasser; as a rule, you are not accountable for the injuries the dog inflicted unless you acted unreasonably, such as attracting or allowing people to trespass on your property.
What is then the required standard of care for a dog owner to escape liability over dog bites on his property?
Standard of Care: Due Diligence
Due diligence is the standard of care a dog owner must always observe. Otherwise, a dog bite victim will suffer harmful consequences.
As defined, due diligence is the standard of care that a reasonable and prudent person exercises to avoid harm with respect to persons and properties. Negligence, on the other hand, is the omission of that degree of diligence, care, precaution, and vigilance required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the person, time, and place.
Suppose you fail to satisfy due diligence requirements in your conduct as a dog owner. In that case, you will be primarily responsible for the attacks caused by your dog toward another person or his property.
Furthermore, the Leash Law makes liability for negligence clear.
Accordingly, in order to establish to right to recovery, a dog bite victim must establish by competent evidence:
- Damages to the dog bite victim;
- Negligence by act or omission of the dog owner; and
- The dog owner’s negligence is the proximate cause of the injury or damage to the dog bite victim.
In essence, the test used to determine negligence in dog bites cases is as follows: Did the dog owner, in doing the alleged act, use the reasonable caution that a prudent man would have used in the same situation? If not, the dog owner is guilty of negligence.
Proving Liability under the “One Bite Rule”
There is no dog bite statute in Houston, Texas, but instead, they adhere to the “One Free Bite Rule,” or more commonly known as the “One Bite Rule.”
Before the amendments, the One Bite Rule required sufficient evidence that the dog had bitten another person in the past before the dog could be considered dangerous.
Under the amended One Bite Rule, certain conditions must be met before a dog owner can be held liable for the attacks caused by his dog:
- The dog has dangerous tendencies;
- The owner knew or should have known about the dog’s violent propensities; and
- The dog’s vicious tendencies caused damage to a person or property.
- The Dog has Dangerous Tendencies
Dogs’ behavior largely depends on their age or breed and as a result of emotional disorders or mental health issues. By nature, large dog breeds have greater chances of causing severe injuries because of their build and size. Several dog breeds have a history of aggression and violence throughout the years, including Pit Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Boxers, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and others.
Dogs’ violent tendencies include aggressive chase-bite playing, mouthing, lunging, jumping up, house soiling, and certain forms of barking.
Remember that a dog’s aggression starts from a threatening behavior to a full-blown attack which can be recognized from subtle changes in their body posture, facial expressions, and kinds of barking.
Thus, you should be able to recognize your dog’s triggers early on to avoid future dog attacks.
- The Dog Owner has Knowledge of Dog’s Violent Propensities
As a responsible dog owner, it is crucial to acknowledge your dog’s dangerous tendencies to facilitate proper training, treatment, and behavior modification with the help of a veterinarian or hands-on guidance from a trainer.
If you recognize your dog’s unruly behavior early on, such as aggressive chase-bite play, lunging, pulling, and certain forms of barking, you will be able to effectively provide what the dog needs and reinforce what is desirable while preventing what is undesirable.
Here is a checklist that one can consider to establish the knowledge of the dog owner with regard to his dog’s violent propensities:
- If the purpose for which the dog is kept is for protection, it may be presumed that the dog is trained to attack uninvited guests, unknown people, and trespassers.
- If the dog frequently snaps or bites other dogs, it may demonstrate that the owner knew or should have known his dog’s hostile personality.
- If the dog wears a muzzle, it may show that the owner knows that his dog tends to bite another person or destroy another’s property.
- If the owner places warning signs on the dog’s premises, it may reveal the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s violent behavior.
- Suppose the owner made statements to his neighbors about the dog’s behavior or gave the community a general notice of the dog’s character. In that case, it may indicate that the dog has a history of assault.
However, you must also know how to defend yourself.
If you are sued for a personal injury claim from a person who your dog attacked, you must be quick to point out the possibility that the dog bite victim provoked your dog or was trespassing on your property at the time of the attack.
- The Dog’s Vicious Tendencies Caused Damage to a Person or Property
Being a dog owner requires you to be upfront with your dog’s behavior and personality, especially if you choose to live with a large dog breed. Before you decide which dog to buy or adopt, you must consider the potential risk of injury or damage your dog may inflict in case he attacks a person or destroys another’s property. More often than not, an inexperienced eye will not notice signs of increased aggression. In fact, most dog owners only admit the dog’s aggression after their dog has bit somebody, which is too late.
Therefore, if your dog bit someone while lawfully on your property, you are definitely liable, regardless of what the dog owner knew or did to prevent the attack.
Seek the Help of a Dog Bite Lawyer
Suppose your dog bites someone on your property. In that case, you are not automatically liable unless you violate an animal control statute, which is considered negligence per se, or if you fail to take proper action to lessen the attack. In these two instances, you are directly responsible for the injuries or damages caused by your dog.
As such, the question of what would constitute a negligent dog owner in a particular situation must always be determined in light of the surrounding circumstances and the acts involved in the specific case.
Therefore, it is crucial to remember that your liability largely depends on the specifics of your case.
This is all the more reason why you need to seek the assistance of a reputable dog bite attorney in Houston, Texas, because your liability in a dog attack is, after all, a legal battle that requires years of expertise, experience, and actual practice and a careful review of the evidence presented, particularly the testimonies of the relevant witnesses.