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What You Should Know About Dog Bites & Dangerous Dog Breeds

According to a 2017 study done by the American Pet Products Association, sixty-eight percent of U.S. households owned a least one pet. A family pet is generally one of the most heartwarming part of a household, often enriching the lives of everyone they encounter.  At Chandler | Ross Injury Attorneys, we are strong advocates for animal rights, and all enjoy the companionship of family pets.  We understand the happiness and enjoyment that these animals bring to a family’s life, and we advocate for responsible ownership.  But for your family’s own protection, especially in a legal sense, it is important to be aware of certain dog breeds that can be more likely to be aggressive. In some cases, insurance agencies won’t provide an insurance policy for an owner of one of these breeds, as they would prefer to avoid potential liability. Before making the decision to get a potentially dangerous dog, be sure to research the animal thoroughly to understand that specific breed, their general temperament, and requirements for raising them properly.  Generally, if an animal has been properly integrated with it’s surroundings and other people, most problems can be avoided.

Still, it is important to note some common breeds that are sometimes excluded from coverage, or held to a stricter standard.  Although this is often entirely unfair, and not applicable to the animal at all, it can become an issue should an accident happen.  Common dangerous, or “higher risk” breeds include:

  1. Pitbulls
  2. Rottweilers
  3. Saint Bernards
  4. Huskys
  5. German Shepards
  6. Wolf Hybrids
  7. Alaskan Malamutes
  8. Chow Chow Dogs
  9. Great Danes

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and any breed can present dangers, especially when not properly socialized. In addition, many of the breeds listed above make perfectly fine family pets, and only become dangerous when not properly socialized or have been improperly bred.  It is extremely important to understand that careless breeding, poor socialization, lack of attention or necessary activity, and abuse can lead to serious behavioral problems in almost any breed.  Unfortunately, these breeds may receive higher scrutiny if an accident should happen.

Notable Facts regarding Dog Bites in the United States

  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every year just under 5 million individuals are bitten by a dog.
  • Roughly 27,000 victims of dog bites require surgery. Plastic surgery, and scar-revision surgery is often required.
  • Young children between ages 4 and 10 are more likely than any other age group to be bitten by dog
  • Approximately 20% of dog bites occur on the face of a person, as people, especially young children, tend to get right in a dog’s face when playing.
  • About 35% of people bitten by a dog require at least some form of medical attention.

Common injuries suffered by dog-bite victims:

Dog bite victims can sustain everything from small cuts and scratches, to life-threatening injuries which can have devastating effects.  Some of these can affect a person’s ability to function normally for the rest of their lives, both physically and emotionally.  Common injuries resulting from dog bites include:

  1. Scar tissue damage: If a dog rips into your skin it can cause scarring, which may take years to decrease and may be permanent. This can have a major effect on a person when the scar is more severe and in a visible area such as the face.
  2. Infections such as Rabies and Tetanus: Rabies is a life-threatening virus that spreads through the saliva of infected animals. It causes inflammation of the brain while breaking down the central nervous system. Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to fever, confusion, paralysis, and vomiting.  Tetanus is a dangerous bacterium that causes tightening of muscles throughout the entire body. It requires a medical diagnosis and must be treated by as soon as possible.
  3. Death: In the most severe cases, dog bites can result in injuries which cannot be overcome, and end up killing a person. While these cases are rare, it is important to acknowledge and understand the potential threat that a truly dangerous dog may pose.

Texas Dog Bite Statutes & Laws

Unlike some states, Texas does not have a statute that specifically addresses a dog owner’s civil liability for damages caused when their animal bites another person.

In the mid 1970’s, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas is a “negligence” or “one bite rule” state for purposes of personal injury cases resulting from dog bites.

For a typical dog bite claim in Texas, the injured person has the burden to show that:

  • the dog’s owner had knowledge that the dog had acted aggressively or had bitten someone in the past, or
  • the dog’s owner negligently failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or prevent the bite, and as a result, the injured person was bitten.

This negligence rule applies to other types of injuries caused by dogs as well. For example, if a large dog jumps on a person and causes them to fall, the injured person may file a claim for damages against the dog’s owner. Still, the injured person must show either that the dog’s owner knew the dog was aggressive or that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from harming others.

Liability in Texas Dog Bite Claims

Although Texas’ “negligence” rule applies to most dog bites, Texas courts will generally apply a “strict liability” rule in cases in which the dog is known to be “vicious, dangerous or mischievous,” and the bites resulted from the dog’s known nature.

“Strict liability” in this context means that if the injury was caused by a “dangerous dog,” the injured person does not have to prove that the owner also failed to use reasonable care to restrain or control the animal. The injured person will be able to recover damages simply by demonstrating that the dog was known to be dangerous.

This is extremely important information for those who may own a certain breed characterized as “dangerous.”

Defenses to a Texas Dog Bite Claim

In Texas, a dog owner will generally have two defenses to a dog bite lawsuit:

  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Trespassing

Because most dog bite claims in Texas require the injured person show that the owner knew the dog was aggressive, showing that the owner had no knowledge may work as a defense to a dog bite claim. An owner may not be liable for injuries resulting from a dog bite if he can show that he did not know the dog was likely to bite or to act aggressively, and the owner was not negligent in controlling the dog.

Second, if the injured person was unlawfully trespassing on the dog owner’s property when the bite occurred, the owner will have an argument that the person who was bitten bears some or all of the fault for what happened. This concept is covered in Texas’ Comparative Negligence rules.

How can Chandler | Ross Injury Attorneys help me?

Dog bites are much more common than most people realize.  With the number of dogs in the US, the chances that a person will encounter an aggressive animal are actually quite high.  If you or someone you know was injured as a result of a dog bite, you should seek the assistance of a qualified personal injury attorney.  Doing so could mean the difference in recovering a fair settlement for your injuries (past and future), or being ignored by the insurance company.    The Texas Injury Attorneys at Chandler | Ross can help you navigate the legalities of filing a proper claim, navigating the complexities of a potential settlement, and filing suit if necessary.  We have the knowledge and experience required to deal with the very specific legal issues pertaining to injury cases resulting from dog bites.

With offices in Denton, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texas, Chandler | Ross, PLLC and our Personal Injury Attorneys are well positioned to provide the most effective and highly-skilled representation possible.  Don’t wait, and don’t compromise – contact us today for a Free Case Evaluation and see how we can help you.  In most cases, you pay nothing unless settle your case or win a verdict.  Contact us now at (940) 800-2500 or Support@ChandlerRossLaw.com to schedule your free personal injury case evaluation and consultation.