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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.

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Sweet Old Lady

Ronald Reagan once said it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions. Personal Responsibility has long been held as a conservative value and rightfully so. Society wants, and needs, people to be accountable for their actions.

As a kid, I used to absolutely love going to the local five and dime store with my Mom. Perry s, a local store in Dayton, Texas, was a huge store and had everything you could imagine. To a young child, the store was full of wonder and opportunity. Even though I was very young, my mother would allow me to wander the store by myself while she shopped. I spent countless hours in the toy aisle, but I also explored every other part of the store just dreaming about what I could do with a new pair of rubber boots or a new pocket knife. I loved that store and I was always so excited to be there.

But, I was also terrified. I was terrified of this one sweet old lady. She was a store employee and a spy. She was an elderly woman in horn rim glasses and she followed me wherever I went. She tried to hide, but I always knew that she was there. Her presence was a dark cloud that hung over me as I wandered the store and was constantly reminded that if you break it, you buy it. Even though my mother trusted me, that sweet old lady was always around to hold me accountable if I were to actually break something.

Because I was so scared of her, I never bought a broken item. I actually never broke anything. But, I always knew that I would be held accountable if I were careless and something did break. Although I had a healthy fear of that sweet old lady, her mere presence served as a deterrent and a constant reminder that I should be careful not to break anything.

Personal responsibility is a good value. If you break it, you buy it is a good rule. No one should have to bear the financial burden of someone else’s careless or negligent act.

The same principle applies to injuries caused by someone other than you. Injuries caused by others lead to financial harms and losses. Sometimes, these financial harms and losses can be overwhelming. The same rule of you break it, you buy it should apply in this situation. The one who injured, or broke you, should be held responsible and accountable to pay for your financial harms and losses.

Conservatives stand firm on the constitution rightfully so I must add – and most Texans are strong believers in the Constitution. Just dare to take away their gun and you will see what I mean. But, while they strongly and again, rightfully – defend the 2nd Amendment, they allow their own conservative politicians to trample all over their constitutional rights to freely access the courts.

The 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states in suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.

Juries exist to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Juries are the sweet old lady in horn rim glasses who actively serve as a deterrent and a strong reminder to be careful, to act appropriately, to consider the safety of others, to make safe products, and to treat patients with the proper level of care.

Even though she terrifies us at times, the jury system is a necessary and vital tool that our forefathers were right to preserve. Personal responsibility is a good conservative value. But, when people fail to accept responsibility for their actions, the jury system is there to hold them accountable. She’s a sweet old lady.