Texas One-Bite Rule

Texas dog bite laws follow a version of the “one-bite rule” adopted by several other states. Under this rule, a dog owner may bear strict liability for injuries their dog inflicts by biting another person if the owner knows about their dog’s aggressive or vicious tendencies. However, Texas law also allows dog bite injury victims to impose liability on dog owners whose negligence facilitates a dog bite or attack. Both dog owners and those injured by them should understand how Texas dog bite laws affect legal and financial liability for dog attack-related injuries, as these laws create burdens of proof for dog bite injury victims to meet to recover compensation from the dog’s owner.

Understanding the “One-Bite Rule” in Texas

Unlike other states that adopted a dog bite statute, Texas dog bite laws arose from various court cases over the years. Texas adopted its “one-bite rule” in the Texas Supreme Court case of Marshall v. Ranne. The Texas one-bite law allows injured dog bite victims to hold the dog’s owner strictly liable for their injuries when the owner knew about their dog’s aggressive or vicious tendencies because the dog previously bit someone, attempted to bite someone, or acted like it wanted to bite someone. If a dog has no prior history of attacks or previous aggressive behavior, or if the owner has no knowledge of their dog’s bad conduct, a dog bite injury victim cannot rely on the one-bite rule to impose liability on the dog’s owner.

With the Texas one-bite law, a dog bite victim does not need to prove that the bite or attack occurred due to the dog owner’s negligent handling of their animal. However, the one-bite rule does not preclude a person who has suffered dog bite injuries from pursuing a negligence claim against the dog owner to recover compensation.

Dog bite actions brought under the “one-bite” rule involve claims of strict liability. However, Texas law also allows dog bite victims to pursue claims against dog owners under a theory of negligence. A person commits an act of negligence when they fail to exercise ordinary care through an action or omission (a failure to act). Ordinary care covers the actions that a reasonable person would undertake in similar circumstances to avoid harming others. A negligence claim requires a dog bite injury victim to prove several legal elements:

  • The defendant owned or possessed the animal.
  • The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring other people.
  • The defendant breached that duty.
  • The defendant’s breach of their duty of care directly and proximately led to the dog bite/attack.
  • The plaintiff suffered injuries for which they deserve financial recovery.

In a negligence claim, an injured dog bite victim does not need to prove that the dog owner knew about prior attacks or acts of aggression by their dog. Instead, the owner’s negligent handling of their animal results in liability for injuries inflicted by their dog. Common examples of negligent dog handling include:

  • Failing to maintain the dog’s enclosure, thereby allowing the dog to escape through the enclosure’s door or a hole in the fence or wall
  • Leaving the door open so that a dog allowed to run free in the home can escape the residence
  • Not keeping the dog on a leash in public
  • Not monitoring the dog’s behavior while off-leash in public, such as at a dog park

An injured dog bite victim might hold a dog owner liable under the more specific theory of negligence per se, meaning “negligence in itself.” A negligence per se claim in a dog bite case argues that a dog owner negligently handled their animal by violating state or local animal control laws. Negligence per se claims hold defendants liable for injuries that occur in accidents or incidents caused or facilitated by the defendant’s violation of a law, regulation, or ordinance. One typical example of a negligence per se claim is one involving a dog owner who failed to keep their animal on a leash as required by local ordinance.

Specific Texas Statutes and Local Ordinances

Various state laws and local ordinances may come into play in dog bite/attack cases, including cases based on a theory of negligence per se. For example, Sections 821.102 and 821.103 of the Texas Health and Safety Code govern the use of restraints on dogs. The statutes make it illegal to leave a dog outside and unattended by the use of a restraint unless an owner provides their dog with adequate shelter, an area to avoid standing water or animal waste, shade, and potable water. Owners may not use a weighted chain shorter than 10 feet or five times the dog’s length. However, these restrictions do not apply when using a restraint in a public camping or recreational area, during dog training or shepherding, while hunting, or in an open truck bed while the owner completes a temporary task. The law also allows owners to handle and restrain their dogs via a handheld leash.

State law also classifies certain dogs as “dangerous dogs.” The law defines a dog as dangerous when it has:

  • Made an unprovoked attack upon a person outside the dog’s enclosure and injured that person, or
  • Committed an unprovoked act outside the enclosure that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and injure them

An owner of a dog declared dangerous has specific legal requirements, including:

  • Registering the dog with local animal control authorities
  • Restraining the dog at all times in a secure enclosure or by a leash kept in a person’s immediate control
  • Obtaining liability insurance or showing financial responsibility of at least $100,000
  • Complying with applicable municipal or county regulations for dangerous dogs

Owners who fail to meet these requirements risk having their dogs seized upon court order. When an owner fails to remedy a violation, the court can order the seized dangerous dog euthanized.

Local ordinances in Austin also govern the handling of dogs. For example, Austin ordinances prohibit owners from allowing dogs to run at large or keeping a dog that makes frequent, prolonged, or continued disturbing noises. Ordinances also allow local authorities to impound a dog that injures a person, with the owner typically bearing the impoundment costs. Authorities will release an impounded dog following certification that the dog does not have rabies and has received all required vaccinations. Finally, Austin requires owners or handlers to keep dogs under restraint in public, except in designated leash-free areas.

Austin ordinances also govern the ownership and handling of vicious dogs. The local ordinance defines a vicious dog as a dog that, while running at large, has:

  • Killed a domestic animal or livestock, or
  • Severely injured another animal or caused significant permanent impairment of another animal’s essential bodily functions or mobility.

Owners of vicious dogs must always restrain their dogs via enclosure or a leash, submit proof of rabies vaccination to the Austin Health Authority, and implant a microchip in their dog. When taking a vicious dog to a boarding facility, an owner must notify the facility that the Health Authority has declared the dog a vicious dog.

Dog bite injury claims may involve other theories of liability. For example, Texas law allows a dog attack victim to hold a dog owner or handler liable for failing to stop an attack in progress, such as by commanding the dog to heel or pulling the dog back by a leash or collar. The Texas Supreme Court has held that an owner or handler may bear liability for failing to stop an ongoing dog attack even if they do not have any liability under the one-bite rule or negligence.

A landowner or landlord may also bear liability for a dog bite or attack. Texas courts have held that a landlord who retains control over the common areas of the property has a duty of care to keep the common areas reasonably safe for tenants and guests and that this duty extends to protecting tenants and guests from known aggressive or vicious dogs. A dog bite victim may have a claim against a landlord when an attack occurs in a common area of a multi-unit property under the landlord’s control, and the landlord has actual or constructive notice that the dog has aggressive or vicious tendencies.

Defenses and Comparative Negligence

A dog owner may have defenses to a dog bite injury claim. Common legal defenses in dog bite cases include:

  • Provocation: A dog bite injury victim may share responsibility for injuries they sustained in a dog bite or attack if they provoked the dog into attacking, such as by teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog. Examples of teasing or tormenting actions include chasing a dog, poking a dog, pulling a dog’s tail or ear, hitting a dog, biting a dog, or roughhousing a dog when the dog does not want to play.
  • Trespassing: A dog owner might not have liability to a person who is bitten or attacked by the owner’s dog while trespassing on the owner’s property. Trespassing occurs when a person enters a property without the owner’s or occupier’s permission or other lawful authority, such as a police officer entering a property in furtherance of their duties or a mail carrier coming onto the property to make a delivery. However, a dog bite victim might defeat a trespassing defense by showing that the dog owner intentionally or recklessly caused their injuries, such as by commanding their dog to attack when not necessary for self-defense.

A dog owner might also seek contribution and indemnification from a party whose negligence directly leads to a dog bite or attack. For example, a dog owner might seek to hold a dog walker liable for any compensation the owner must pay to someone the dog bit or attacked while the walker had the dog off-leash in public.

Texas’s comparative negligence rule also applies to claims brought under the theory of negligence. Under this rule, an injured claimant cannot recover compensation if they bear a majority share of fault for causing their injuries. Even if a claimant only bears a minority share of fault, the comparative negligence rules state that a court can reduce the claimant’s financial recovery in proportion to the percentage of responsibility assigned to them by a jury or a judge sitting as the factfinder.

With the adoption of the comparative negligence rule, Texas abolished the old assumption of risk doctrine. Under this doctrine, a person can voluntarily assume the risk of injury and absolve potential defendants from liability for those injuries. Comparative negligence largely replaced the implied assumption of risk, which occurs when a person understands the inherent risk of injury in an activity and effectively assumes that risk by participating in it. Texas law today treats express assumption of risk, such as signing a liability waiver, as a matter of contract law rather than tort law.

Dog owners can also defend against injury claims by challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting an injury victim’s claim under the one-bite rule or a theory of negligence. For example, in claims under the one-bite rule, a dog owner may present a defense disproving that their dog previously attacked someone or behaved aggressively, viciously, or threateningly, or showing that the owner never knew about prior incidents of violence or aggressive behavior by their dog.

Criminal Penalties and Owner Responsibilities

Dog owners may also face criminal penalties for specific dog attacks. For example, an owner who knows that their dog frequently runs at large or kills livestock and allows it to run at large will face a $100 fine.

Owners commit a criminal offense when they intentionally fail or refuse to register their dog as required by state law or allow authorities to euthanize their dog when ordered by a court. Penalties for a violation include up to 30 days in jail and a potential fine of up to $100.

An owner of a dangerous dog may face criminal penalties when they fail to comply with the statutory requirements for keeping a dangerous dog or if their dog attacks and injures someone. Failing to follow state and local regulations for keeping dangerous dogs constitutes a Class C misdemeanor, with second and subsequent convictions graded as Class B misdemeanors. When a dangerous dog makes an unprovoked attack upon a person outside the dog’s enclosure, the dog’s owner may face a Class C misdemeanor conviction.

In 2007, Texas passed a new statute called Lillian’s Law, which can impose criminal liability upon a dog owner whose animal attacks another person. The law was named for Lillian Stiles, a 76-year-old woman killed in 2005 when several large dogs attacked her in her front yard. Under Lillian’s Law, a dog owner commits a criminal offense when they:

  • Fail to secure their dog, with criminal negligence, and the dog makes an unprovoked attack outside the owner’s property or vehicle that causes severe or fatal injuries, or
  • Know that they own a dangerous dog because they know of a prior attack or receive notice from the court or animal control authorities, and the dog makes an unprovoked attack outside the owner’s property or vehicle that causes severe or fatal injuries

A person acts with criminal negligence when they should know that their conduct poses a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that the failure to perceive the risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances.

Violations of Lillian’s Law constitute a third-degree felony or a second-degree felony if the attack results in the victim’s death. Penalties for a third-degree felony conviction include two to ten years in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000. However, people with little or no criminal history might receive a sentence of two to ten years probation or deferred adjudication. Penalties for a second-degree felony conviction include two to 20 years in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.


If you’ve suffered injuries because another person’s dog bit or attacked you, you may have the right to seek financial recovery from the owner for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Texas law imposes liability upon dog owners under specific circumstances, and you need experienced legal counsel to investigate your case and secure the evidence to prove a dog owner’s responsibility for your harm and loss. Contact the Loewy Law Firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options and what to expect when pursuing your claim.