Dogs are “man’s best friend.” In this country, and especially in the State of Texas, we take that old chestnut saying to heart. Dogs are integral parts of many Houston families, and most of the time they offer love, companionship and loyalty. But dogs can also cause serious injury or death if they bite people. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year in this country. Do you think that it is a myth that the postman is a frequent victim of Fido?
The CDC states that out of those 4.7 million annual dog bites, 800,000 of them require medical attention, and half of those victims are children. The CDC estimates that there are about a dozen fatal dog bites annually. This is actually a fairly low fatality rate considering the number of dog bites. The CDC estimates that only 0.0002 percent of dog bites are fatal. Children ages 5 to 9 are the most likely to get bit, and a third of those bites are delivered to the head or neck of the child bitten.
The CDC also conducted a study of fatal dog bites between 1979 and 1998. The CDC concluded that at least 25 different breeds of dog were involved in the fatal dog bite cases. It is probably no surprise that the CDC concluded that Pit Bull and Rottweiler dogs were involved in over half of the fatal dog bite injuries. The CDC did say that it is often difficult to determine a dog breed with certainty. The CDC further found that almost 25% of the cases involved unrestrained dogs off their owners’ property, while 58% of the fatal attacks involved unrestrained dogs on the owners’ property. Interestingly, the CDC also concluded that since fatalities result in such a small percentage of dog bite cases, the findings related to fatalities should not drive public policy related to dealing with dangerous dogs.
Each state has its own dog bite statutes and established common law, and Texas has its own rules as well. Texas is one of the minority of states in this country that is a “one bite” state. As the name suggests, if the dog has already bitten a person in the past, the dog owner can be held liable for subsequent bites. That is the easiest case scenario. For instance, if a dog has already bitten five mailmen, then the sixth mailman who gets bitten should not have much trouble holding the dog’s owner liable for his injuries.
If the dog has not bitten people before, things get more complicated. Then the question would be asked whether the dog owner should have known that the dog would likely bite someone. This would be based on previous behavior of the dog, such as several close calls in the past where the dog was restrained before he had the chance to complete the act of biting. Another way to find a dog owner liable for the injuries resulting from a dog bite is if the dog bit the victim in circumstances where the dog owner was violating certain law or ordinances. A common example would be local leash laws.
If none of the above situations can be proven, the dog bite victim can always turn to general negligence personal injury or premises liability principals. In Texas, in order to succeed in showing that someone else was negligent in causing a personal injury, you must prove that:
- The negligent person owed a legal duty to you;
- The negligent person breached that duty to you; and
- The breach of that duty caused your injury.
The circumstances can vary greatly, but generally speaking the dog bite victim would need to show that the dog owner was negligent in allowing the circumstances to arise in which his dog bit the victim.
Texas passed a law in 2007 called “Lillian’s Law” (named in the memory of Lillian Stiles, a 76-year old woman who was mauled to death by a pack of pit bulls). The owner of the pit bulls lived down the street from Mrs. Stiles. The law states that a person is guilty if they, with criminal negligence, fail to secure their dog or dogs, and the dog makes an unprovoked attack on another person at a location other than the owner’s property and the attack causes serious bodily injury or death to the other person. Additionally, a dog owner is guilty if he knows that the dog is a dangerous dog and the dog makes an unprovoked attack upon another person outside a secured enclosure for the dog and the attack results in serious bodily injury or death. Violation of Lillian’s Law is a third degree felony, unless the result is death, in which it becomes a second degree felony.
Dog bite cases can vary greatly depending on the facts of each case. If you have been bitten by a dog or your child or family member has suffered an injury from a dog bite, the attorneys of Herbert & McClelland LLP can help investigate the facts of the case and help you to pursue compensation for injuries in the dog bite case.
Herbert & McClelland LLP may be able to help you recover for your medical bills and pain and suffering associated with your dog bite. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog that caused injury, call a Houston dog bite lawyer at 713-987-7100 for a free initial consultation!