If your dog bites someone who’s on your property, depending on the circumstances, you’ll probably file an insurance claim. If you have liability coverage, it should handle the claim and provide you with a legal defense. Dog bite claims are very common, and your carrier probably handles these injuries all the time.
When is a Dog Owner Liable for Dog Bite Injuries?
Dog owner liability depends on state law. Some states hold owners strictly liable for dog bites, so they’re automatically responsible. A 1974 state supreme court case involving a 1970 incident where a hog injured the plaintiff’s hand spelled out why Texas is a “one bite rule” state. That means you are liable for harm if you:
- Knew your dog previously bit someone or had been aggressive
- Were negligent in restraining your dog or in preventing the bite
A plaintiff needs to show five different elements to establish you were negligent:
- You owned or possessed the dog
- You owed a duty or obligation to use reasonable care to prevent it from injuring others
- You breached or violated that duty
- That breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries, factually and legally
- Under Texas law, you must compensate the victim for damages (the harm done measured in dollars)
You must use reasonable care to protect those you invite onto the property or those you permit to use it like someone delivering a package or working for the US Postal Service. Not trying to end the dog attack after it begins, or doing so negligently, can also be part of a legal claim.
Proof that you violated an animal control law and caused injuries is another way a victim may try to hold you financially responsible. County and local governments may require dogs to be controlled. Failing to do so would be considered negligence per se (if you violated a law or ordinance, it shows you acted negligently).
What Legal Defenses Might I Have?
You don’t owe a duty to use reasonable care to the other person if they’re trespassing on your property. The plaintiff has the burden of proving you knew your dog attacked someone in the past, which may or may not be true.
Texas is a modified comparative negligence state. That means the plaintiff must show that you’re at least 51% to blame for the bite. If the plaintiff is more to blame than you (the person teased the dog, they were trespassing, or attacked the dog first), the case should be dismissed.
Even if you’re more responsible than the victim, their share of the blame will be taken off their recovery. If a judge or jury decides they’re 25% to blame for the bite, their damages award would be reduced by 25%.
What Role Does Insurance Play?
If you own a house and pay a mortgage, you’re probably required by contract to carry homeowners’ insurance. If you don’t have a mortgage, you should buy insurance to cover incidents like this. You should have renter’s insurance to cover liability claims if you rent your home.
Dog bite claims cost insurance companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To reduce these costs, when applying for insurance, you may be asked if you have a dog and, if so, its breed. Your policy may require you to disclose you got a dog after getting insurance.
If you have a dog, they may increase your premium and not cover liability for specific breeds. If you make a dog bite claim, your premium may increase, or the company may drop your coverage.
The person bit or their attorney may contact you, tell you about the injury, and seek information about your insurance. If you get such a letter or notice, contact your carrier as soon as possible. Let them know what happened and that you may face legal liability.
Your insurance company should take it from there. They’ll do an investigation and ask you questions. Someone may come to your home to take photos. The company may assign an attorney to represent you. You won’t need to pay them. Their services are one of the benefits of having insurance.
The insurance company will probably negotiate a settlement. If not, you’re sued, and your case goes to trial, the attorney should work with you to get the best outcome. But ultimately, they work for the carrier, so your control is limited.
If injuries are severe and the verdict goes against you, they must pay the award up to the policy’s coverage limit. If the damages are more than that, you may need to use your own resources to pay the plaintiff.
Get the Help You Need From Houston Dog Bite Lawyers You Can Trust
Call Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P at (713) 893-0971 if you need a Houston personal injury lawyer with years of regional court system experience handling dog bite cases. As a personal injury law firm in Texas, we help injured negligence victims like you obtain fair compensation for their injuries. Get in touch with our legal team today to schedule your free consultation and begin the process of protecting your legal rights.