Is There a “First Bite” Rule in Texas?
Let’s say you are at a dog park in Dallas, Texas. Although your dog was on a leash, it accidentally slipped out of your hand. The dog then runs up to another person an bit him on the leg. The dog has never bit anyone before and never showed aggressive tendencies. Are you still liable for the injury since this is the dog’s “first bite?”
There is no “First Bite” rule in Texas.
One of the biggest misconceptions in personal injury cases involving dog bites or animal attacks in Texas is that the first bite is free. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
It’s all a matter of “Negligence.”
Everyone has a duty to properly contain and restrain their pets. Even if you have the most lovable and gentle dog in the neighborhood, you can still be liable for any personal injuries if your dog gets loose and hurts someone. It doesn’t matter that your dog has never bitten anyone before.
At the same time, you can have the most violent dog in the neighborhood. Therefore, you may have a greater responsibility to maintain control over your dog so it does not hurt anyone.
The main focus is not whether your dog behaved violently in the past, but whether you were negligent in failing to keep your dog under your control.
“Negligence” has many factors.
Negligence is a legal action where someone may be responsible for injuries or damages caused by an occurrence. In order to prove negligence, you have to prove that:
- The law imposes a legal duty of care under the circumstances;
- A person breached or violated that duty of care;
- Damages or injuries were caused by the occurrence.
This is just a more complex way of saying something very simple: If you are careless or make a mistake, and someone gets hurt, you are responsible.
Negligence v. The “First Bite” Rule.
So, as you can see, the focus is not only on the dog. The focus is more on the owner or person exercising control over the dog.
In the description of the incident at the dog park, you may be deemed responsible because you failed to keep your dog restrained. On the other hand, you were at a dog park. I’m sure there are many dogs off leash at a dog park. So, it could be argued that you were not negligent in having your dog run free at a dog park, even if the leash slipped out of your hand.
Here is where the so-called “first bite” rule may help you. If you were within your rights to have your dog off leash, then the fact that it has never demonstrated violent tendencies in the past may help you. Having your dog off leash in this situation may be okay so long as you have no reason to think that your dog may hurt someone.
If, however, you had previous notice or experience that your dog could hurt someone, then having it off leash at a dog park may be deemed negligence.
So, as you can see, the main focus is on acts or omissions of the dog owner and not the dog’s history.
Good Rule of Thumb….
Always keep your dog properly restrained and under your control. Otherwise, you may be liable for injuries regardless of your dog’s previous behavior.
If you are in a situation where your dog may be off a leash, such as a dog park or in your backyard, you better be very comfortable that your dog will not cause any injuries. Here is where your prior experiences with your dog will guide you.
In the end, you are expected to handle your dog in a responsible manner where it does not pose a risk of injuries or harm to others.