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Texas Dog Bite Laws

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Texas doesn't have a civil liability law specifically for dog bites, but that doesn't mean you won't be liable if your dog bites someone. The Texas Supreme Court articulated the law and standards that Texas follows for animal attacks in a case called Marshall v. Ranne.

In the Marshall case, Paul Marshall sued John Ranne for damages suffered when Ranne's boar severely injured his hand. The court reviewed previous court cases involving animals and decided that Texas would hold the owner of a vicious animal strictly liable for damages.

With this ruling Texas became a "one bite rule" state. This means the owner can be held strictly liable for any damages caused by an animal known to be dangerous (or which could be dangerous). However, if the animal has never bitten anyone before, then the injured person must prove that it was vicious before they could recover for the injuries.

While Texas lacks statutes for civil liability for dog attacks (or attacks by other animals), it does have criminal statutes. A dog owner may be criminally liable if they acted with criminal negligence or if they had reason to know their dog was dangerous. A person can be said to act with criminal negligence if they should have been aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risk that resulted in the dog attack. For the criminal statutes, a person can be said to know that their dog is dangerous if there was a previous, unprovoked attack or the owner has been informed by appropriate authorities that the dog is dangerous.

Texas Dog Bite Laws: The Basics

This article focuses on civil liability for dog bites, but a discussion of criminal penalties has been provided. The chart below provides a helpful, plain language summary of statutes that comprise Texas' dog bite laws, with links to important code sections.

Statutes

Texas Health and Safety Code:

Texas Penal Code:

Texas Civil Code:

Dog Bite Liability

 

 

If the dog has never bitten anyone before and the owner had no reason to believe that the dog was dangerous, then it will be up to the victim to prove negligence in order to recover.

If the owner had reason to know that the dog was dangerous, then the owner is strictly liable for the injury caused.

Possible Penalties and Sentencing

Civil Liabilities:

If the owner didn't know the dog was dangerous, they may be liable for the percentage they are deemed at fault. If the victim is deemed to be more than 50% at fault, there is no liability. (Texas Civ 33.001)

If the owner had reason to know the dog was vicious, then the owner is liable for all damages caused.

Criminal Penalties:

Criminal negligence or previously determined dangerous dog (Texas H&S 822.05):

  • Felony in the third degree
  • Imprisonment 2 to 10 years
  • Fine not to exceed $10,000

Attack by a dog determined to be dangerous (Texas H&S 822.044):

  • Class C misdemeanor
  • Fine not to exceed $500

Possible Defenses

  • Defense to prosecution if person is a veterinarian, peace officer, or is employed to deal with animals.
  • Person is a dog trainer or an employee of a guard dog company
  • Attack occurred on owner's property
  • Attack was provoked
  • Attack occurred in dog's enclosure

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Texas Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

Get a Legal Review of Your Texas Dog Bite Situation

If you've been bitten by a dog, the first thing you should do -- after getting the contact information of the owner (if nearby) -- is seek medical attention. Since the owner of a dog that bites you may be strictly liable for your injuries, you don't have to prove negligence. Get started on recovering for damages for the dog bite today by having an animal and dog bite attorney in Texas review your case.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.