Biting the Hand that Feeds You-Owner Liability for Dog Bites

I am an unabashed dog person. Slobbery kisses, long walks in the park, endless games of throwing the tennis ball, I am all in. When my non-dog loving husband and I were dating he knew it was “love me, love my dog.” Dogs keep you active, help you feel safe, and love you unconditionally. Dogs are the best. Except…when they are not. Our family had a dog that made  Marley from the book/movie “Marley and Me” look like a champion show dog. He could go from napping to knocking down my 6’2” husband in 3 seconds flat. He was disobedient, unruly, and excitable. We spent thousands of dollars and countless hours on professional training in an attempt to make him more manageable with very little success. He was a member of the family, and even though he was a really hard dog to live with, we did not want to give up on him. Then, one day out of the blue he bit me hard on the hand. If he could bite the hand that feeds him, he could bite someone else. What happens if your dog bites someone?

Dog attacks can be extremely dangerous, particularly to young children who are frequently victims in dog attacks due to their size. Dog owners can be held criminally responsible if their dog attacks another person. In Texas, the owner of a loose dog that causes injury or death can be prosecuted if the owner knew or should have known the dog was vicious and failed to properly secure the dog. If the victim is severely injured, the owner could be charged with a third-degree felony and face up to ten years in prison. If the victim dies in the attack, the owner may be charged with a second-decree felony and face up to 20 years in prison.

Who is financially responsible for dog bite injuries? Texas is a “one bite rule” or “negligence” state. Under this rule, if the owner knows his dog has bitten someone before, even just once, he will be liable for subsequent bites. The owner could also be held responsible for injuries resulting from a first bite if the owner knew their dog was dangerous and failed to control their dog. When should you realize your dog is “dangerous?” If your dog has a history of lunging at people, or often growls and snaps at people who come near, you may have reason to expect your dog may bite someone, eventually.

If you know your dog is dangerous, simply giving away the dog or surrendering it to a shelter or rescue organization will not relieve your liability if the dog subsequently bites someone. Once you know your dog is dangerous, your options are limited to either euthanizing the dog or always properly securing the dog and maintaining adequate insurance to cover any injuries caused by the dog (in addition to seeking the advice of a dog trainer with experience in dogs who bite).

In our situation, after consultation with our veterinarian, we decided to euthanize our dog. It was a very hard thing to do but we could not take a chance that the dog would bite someone else, in particular, our children.

There is a happy ending to our story. Our current dog, a rescued Golden Retriever, is a sweet, wonderful dog who is great with our kids and kind to strangers.

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