Posted in: by Anderson Injury Lawyers

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Every year, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs. Children are by far the most susceptible (according to AMVA).

Young children don’t yet know the “rules” around unfamiliar dogs, meaning they might approach a dog that’s acting defensive, pet a dog without asking the owner first, chase a dog that’s frightened, or act in other ways that beckon a bite. Similarly, children sometimes purposely antagonize a dog (think of the cartoon of the little boy running a stick along the bars of a dog’s fence to agitate it). This behavior, of course, can also cause a bite.

A child’s parent is responsible for controlling their child’s behavior and keeping them out of harm’s way, but a dog owner is also in charge of restraining their dog. So who’s at-fault when a child gets bit, according to Texas law?

The Dog Owner Is Typically At-Fault in Texas

In Texas, the law states that a dog owner has a duty to protect others from their animal. This is the case even if the child seems “at fault” for the bite.

An Example of Owner Negligence in Texas

Let’s look at an example. Jim has a dog named Taz who he’s trained to walk off leash. Even though Texas law requires all dogs to be leashed outside, Jim knows Taz won’t run off.

Jim’s walking through his neighborhood with Taz by his side as he does every day. A family with a small child pass by in the opposite direction, but Jim doesn’t think anything of it – Taz is well trained and not aggressive toward children, so it won’t be a problem.

Suddenly, the little girl reaches out to pet Taz, who reacts in surprise and bites her hand. The family is upset and blames Jim for letting his “aggressive” dog “roam around,” but Jim argues the little girl was the one who reached out when she shouldn’t have and besides, Taz has never shown aggression toward children before.

So who’s responsible for the bite?

In this case, it’s Jim’s fault (and his insurance will have to pay for the injuries caused). Below, we’ll explain why.

Negligence in Texas Explained

When someone’s “negligent” it means they’re at fault for the accident. In legal terms, negligence means the “lack of ordinary care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in ordinary circumstances.” In relation to dogs, the law expects people to act reasonably when caring for, crating and handling their dogs.

Jim is negligent in this example because he didn’t have Taz on a leash. He knowingly broke the law in Texas, and that put others in danger. It doesn’t matter that Taz hadn’t ever bitten anyone before or that the little girl pet Taz without permission – the family of the little girl has a right to make a claim against Jim.

More Examples of Negligence in Texas

  • Your neighbors failed to secure their backyard gate and their dog escaped and bit your child.
  • Someone let their dog roam free in the park, and that dog attacked your leashed dog, causing you or your child to get hurt in the process.
  • Your neighbor forgot to close their front door, and their dog got out and bit your child.
  • A homeowner’s dog dug a hole under its fence, escaped and attacked a kid.
  • Your next door neighbor’s dog chewed a hole in the wooden fence between your yards. Your neighbor didn’t fix it and in the meantime, the dog stuck its nose through the hole and bit your child.

The Law Isn’t Always Cut and Dry

It should be noted that the wording of Texas laws put some of these examples in the “grey” area. According to the law, “a dog owner shall not permit his dog to run at large.” So does this still apply if the dog digs a hole under its fence and escapes without the owner’s knowledge?

Courts disagree, but I hold that it’s a dog owner’s responsibility to control their dog. If they have a dog that digs, they need to keep it inside, for instance.

How to Make a Child Dog Bite Claim on Behalf of Your Child

If your child was bit by a dog and they’re under the age of 18, you (the parent or guardian) will make a claim on their behalf.

Dog bite claims are made through the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance. You’ll need to get this information from the dog’s owner.

Next, you’ll need to start building your case. In order to convince the at-fault dog owner’s insurance to pay for your child’s injuries, you’ll have to prove negligence.

You Might Need a Lawyer

The time after a dog attack is frightening, confusing and frankly, angering. Dog owners have a duty under Texas law to restrain their dogs, and if they’d just been more responsible the bite likely would never have happened. Similarly, if people weren’t so irresponsible with their pets, you wouldn’t be left to pay for all the medical bills and damages the dog bite caused.

If your child was bit by someone else’s dog, you should NOT be left to pay for their medical bills on your own.

Not all dog bite cases warrant hiring an attorney. However, if your child has suffered serious injuries as a result of a dog attack and you don’t have much experience negotiating with adjusters, building evidence and interpreting Texas law, then it’s worth consulting a lawyer.