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Bark and Bite: Are You Liable If Your Dog Bites Someone?

If you're anything like me, you LOVE your animals and believe they can do no wrong. I grew up with a household full of everything you can think of: Dogs, horses, cats, turtles, birds, fish, hamsters and even sugar gliders (if you don't know what they are, they kind of look like flying squirrels). What happens, though, when your beloved pet does act out? Are you liable for that bite, that scratch or that kick? Let's focus on man's best friend for now. Personally, it's my pet of choice, because I have three dogs.

Texas adheres to what is known as the "one bite rule." Under this doctrine, a victim can recover compensation from the owner, harborer or keeper of a dog if (a) the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and (b) the defendant was aware of the dog's previous conduct. To recover, both of these elements must be met.

As an example of how this rule would work in practice, when I was a kid, I had a pretty playful Jack Russell Terrier named Solomon who somehow developed the pet name, Whiskey.  At a family get together, my cousin, who was around seven at the time, leaned down to pet Whiskey.

You might not know anything about Jack Russells, but they are very much one person dogs and tend to be territorial around their owner. Well, I was Whiskey's "person." He somehow perceived my sweet little cousin as a threat and bit her right on the face. It was a devastating moment. While Jack Russells are territorial by nature, Whiskey had never bitten or tried to bit any other person. Because he didn't have a record, my family wouldn't have been liable under the "one bite rule."

Texas differs from many other states that impose a strict liability rule. In more than half of our country's states, a dog owner is liable if their dogs cause injury, whether or not the owner had reason to think the dog was dangerous. This is a harsh rule that I personally don't agree with, but it's still a pretty popular rule.

In any case, whether your state is a one bite rule or follows the strict liability rule, it's always important to take the time to ensure your pets are well trained and not a danger to others.

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