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Law That Bites: The Texas “One Bite Rule”

According to Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites in America each year.  Texas leads the nation in dog related fatalities, according to the most recent study of fatalities from 2005 to 2017, there have been 52 fatalities linked to vicious dog attacks, ranging in ages from 85-years old all the way down to just a two month old baby. In 2016, Texas ranked second overall in dog related fatalities.

The funny thing is that Texas, despite leading the nation in dog attacks and dog related death, does not have a statute that covers civil liability for dog bites.

Say what?

Yeah, that’s right. Instead, Texas follows the “one bite rule”. Texas’ one bite rule was established in 1974 by the Texas Supreme Court in Marshall v. Ranne, 511 SW 2d 255 (Tex. S.C. 1974). Texas’ version of the one bite rule is adopted from the Restatement of Torts, section 509. Under the Texas one bite rule, in order to recover damages for a dog bite, the injured person must show that:

  • the dog’s owner knew the dog had bit someone before or acted aggressively towards another person in the past (there’s a funny case where the court noted that a dog acting aggressively towards a cat only shows it dangerous propensities towards a cat, not a person), or
  • the dog’s owner was negligent in controlling the dog or preventing the bite from occurring, and that negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

In a recent Texas Court of Appeal case out of Houston, that court explained the law in this way:

“Even if a dog is not vicious, its owner may be liable for injuries the dog causes “if the plaintiff can prove the owner’s negligent handling or keeping of the animal caused the injury.” Labaj v. VanHouten, 322 S.W.3d 416, 420 (Tex.App.—Amarillo 2010, no pet.); see Dunnings v. Castro, 881 S.W.2d 559, 563 (Tex.App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1994, writ denied) (“an owner of a dog may be liable for injuries caused by the dog even if the animal is not vicious, if the plaintiff can prove that the owner’s negligent handling of the animal caused the animal to injure the plaintiff”). “Unlike strict liability claims, to prevail in a negligence action the plaintiff does not have to prove that the animal was vicious or dangerous.” Muela v. Gomez, 343 S.W.3d 491, 496 (Tex.App.—El Paso 2011, no pet.); see Dunnings, 831 S.W.2d at 562 (although finding of viciousness is necessary in strict-liability claim, it is not necessary in negligence claim). To sustain such a claim, the victim of the dog bitemust show: “(1) the defendant was the owner or possessor of the animal; (2) the defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others; (3) the defendant breached that duty; and (4) the defendant’s breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.” Labaj, 322 S.W.3d at 420–21.”

Stein v. Reiger, 2016 WL 3162589 at *3.

To further explain, suppose you are out for a jog in your neighborhood and one of the neighbors dog chases you down and bites you. To recover damages under Texas law, you will have to show either that your neighbor knew the dog had “known dangerous propensities,” such as it had bitten or jumped on people before, or you will have to show that the neighbor’s negligence in failing to restrain or watch the dog led to the bite.

If the dog had “known dangerous propensities”, then you may be able to sue the neighbor and their insurance company under strict liability rules in Texas. This makes it easier for a Plaintiff to obtain damages against the at-fault party.

However, if the dog did not have dangerous propensities, on top of having to prove that you were injured by the dog, you will have to show that there was something the dog’s owner did that led to your injuries, such as a failure to restrain the dog in the back yard, etc..


Texas law puts a great burden on the injured party in order to seek compensation for their injuries. An innocent victim of a dog bite should be able to seek just and fair compensation without having to jump through hoops to do it. The law should be simplified to provide greater protections to the injured victims in Texas. A state that leads the union in attacks is one of the few without a statute that protects its citizens. Bizarre.

With over 4.5 million dog bites in the U.S., and Texas leading the way, the question that must be asked is, “are we doing enough to protect our citizens from the dangerous dogs?” The answer is simply “no”. In 2017, there were 325.8 million people in the United states. That means that almost 1.4% of the population of the United States was injured a by dog last year. To put it in perspective, there were 4.57 million people seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents in the United States last year. The numbers are nearly in that regard. Most dog bites involve punctures from the animals sharp teeth, and a large number of them, around 900,000 of the 4.5 million bites, will become infected. The pain and recovery time from a dog bite, as well as the treatments that may become necessary if the dog’s shots are not up to date, can be very painful and very expensive.


GuestandGrayLogoIf you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a dog in the in the State of Texas, you need to call the trusted personal injury team at Guest and Gray, P.C. Our firm is the largest and highest rated firm in both Kaufman and Rockwall counties and our practice is quickly growing throughout the state. Our personal injury attorneys are caring, trusted and local. We pride ourselves in hard work and results.

Don’t call just any law firm to guide you through the courts. When you hire an attorney from Guest and Gray, P.C., you not only get an attorney assigned to your case, but you get a knowledgeable and caring support staff. Dealing with injuries or the loss of a loved one is stressful enough. Don’t waste your time having to hassle with your legal team. Call the law firm that cares.

Our consultations are free and you don’t pay a dime unless you recover. Call Guest and Gray, P.C. at 972-564-4644

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