Under Texas law there are several ways to hold an owner of a dangerous animal liable for an attack and resulting injuries:
If an owner of a dangerous domesticated animal such as a dog, cat, or horse knew or should have known that the animal had dangerous propensities, and those same propensities or behaviors result in an attack and injury, the owner can be held strictly liable. The question of the dangerous or vicious nature of the animal is a question of fact for the jury, and evidence of instances such as previous bites or known dangerous behavior is key in proving this element of your case. The causation element in a strict liability case is less demanding than such in a negligence case and does not require that the owner foresee that the injury or attack be foreseeable. As an example, when holding an owner of a vicious dog liable for an attack, the plaintiff must prove that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was vicious or dangerous, and that the dog did in fact attack and injure the Plaintiff. This is sometimes called the "one-bite rule" since failure to establish the known danger of the dog can result in the case being dismissed for want of evidence.
Animal owners can also be held liable for attacks if the owners are guilty of negligence in handling or keeping the animal. Common cases involve dogs or other dangerous domesticated animals which are allowed to roam free in neighborhoods or are tethered in front yards. If the plaintiff can establish that the animal owner breached a duty to prevent the animal from attacking someone and that the attack was reasonably foreseeable, the plaintiff may prevail and be compensated for damages. These cases may also include incidents where the animal owner fails to render aid to the attack victim or fails to restrain the animal while in a public place. In addition, landlords can be held liable for damage done by a vicious animal in a common area whether the landlord owns the animal or not.
Owners of wild or exotic animals may also be held liable for damage done or attacks on other persons. Generally, to prevail in these cases, the plaintiff must prove that the owner reduced the wild animal to his possession or control or introduced the wild animal into the area. The plaintiff must also show that the wild animal had dangerous propensities characteristic to its class and nature, and that the dangerous propensities of the animal were a producing cause of the attack and injury. These types of cases include wild animals such as tigers, bears, crocodiles, and monkeys, and there is a legal presumption that the owner is aware of the dangerous nature of the animal. Like strict liability cases involving domesticated animals, the causation element of the case does not require that the owner foresee that an attack might occur.
In cases involving domesticated animals such as dogs it is also worthwhile to consult local ordinances and leash laws. These local laws may provide additional protection and remedies for victims of dangerous animal attacks. Please contact our office if you or a loved one has been injured or attacked by a dangerous animal.