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One Bite and You’re Out: Strict Liability for Dog Bites in Texas

 

One means of imposing liability on the owners of dogs for attacks which result in injuries is the imposition of strict liability against such dog owner.[1] To recover on a claim of strict liability for injury by a dangerous domesticated animal, such as a dog, it must be shown that: (1) the defendant was the owner or possessor of the animal; (2) the animal had dangerous propensities abnormal to its class; (3) the defendant knew or had reason to know the animal had dangerous propensities; and (4) those propensities were a producing cause of the plaintiff’s injury. See Thompson v. Curtis, 127 S.W.3d 446, 451 (Tex.App.–Dallas 2004, no pet.); Villarreal v. Elizondo, 831 S.W.2d 474, 477 (Tex.App.–Corpus Christi 1992, no writ). The need for establishing knowledge of some vicious propensity on the part of the animal in question has given rise to strict liability being referenced as the so-called one-bite rule. [2]

As our courts have explained, “in a dog bite case the controlling issue to be determined is whether the party complained against has knowingly kept or harbored a vicious dog.” Arrington Funeral Home v. Taylor, 474 S.W.2d 299, 300 (Tex.Civ.App.–Eastland 1971, writ ref’d n.r.e.). Stated differently, the one-bite rule provides that an “owner, whether negligent or not, knowing [his] dog is vicious, is liable for injuries to [a] person bitten by it.” Bly v. Swafford, 199 S.W.2d 1015, 1016 (Tex.Civ.App.–Dallas 1947, no writ).  As our courts have noted, this rule does not purport to focus in any way on the particular breed of the dog which engages in the attack.  See Allen ex rel. B.A. v. Albin, 97 S.W.3d 655, 664, n. 6 (Tex.App.–Waco 2002, no pet.).  Thus, the fact that the attacking dog might be a pit bull, or similar breed with a public perception of increased hostility, will not give rise to any presumption of hostility for purposes of establishing liability.

[1] Other means of imposing liability against the owner of an attacking dog include negligence (e.g. negligent handling of an animal), and negligence per se (e.g. violation of ordinances).

[2] Although referred to as the one bite rule, it should be noted that a bite is not the only aggressive action which will give rise to a presumption of knowledge of vicious propensities.