One Bite Rule
Texas does follow the so-called “One Bite Rule,” but this title is really somewhat misleading. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog’s owner isn’t liable if the dog has never bitten someone before…in other words, they really don’t get “one free bite” before the owner can be held liable.
In the case Marshall v. Ranne, the Texas Supreme Court applied the Restatement of Torts, Section 509, which sets forth the doctrine that is often called the “one free bite rule.” The doctrine basically sets forth a two-part test that needs to be met before an animal’s owner can be held liable for biting or attacking someone. The injured person must show both:
- The animal had a propensity to harm another (either because it had bitten someone before, or acted in an aggressive manner, like it was going to bite someone), AND
- The defendant (owner) was aware of the previous aggressive conduct.
If either of the two conditions aren’t met, it will be difficult to hold the animal’s owner liable under a theory of negligence.
Exceptions to the “One Free Bite” Rule
There are several exceptions to the “one free bite” rule, and depending on the facts of your case, there could be other ways to hold the owner of a dog accountable for your injuries.
Negligence Per Se
For example, if the animal’s owner was in violation of animal control laws, such as leash laws, or owning an illegal animal (like a tiger), etc. the owner may be held liable under a “negligence per se” theory because it’s presumed that they are negligence because they were breaking the law at the time of the attack.
Vicious Animal Exception
Under the “one free bite” theory outlined above, all an injured person needs to prove is that the dog’s owner knew or should have known that the dog had dangerous propensities. There are certain breeds of dogs, such as Pit Bulls, where the owner of such an animal is automatically put on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities, and therefore they knew or should have known of the possibility that the dog would bite someone. Owners of these animals will have a difficult time relying on the fact that the dog hadn’t bitten anyone as a defense strategy.