Animal Bites Law

Am I Liable if My Dog Bites Someone?

No matter how calm or gentle a dog may seem, it might be capable of biting a person or another animal that gets too close. Whether these attacks happen at a home where the dog lives or after it gets loose, the animal's owner may be liable for damages. Of course, the circumstances of a case could shift some or all of the liability of an attack to the person who was attacked or who owned an animal that was attacked. That's why it's so important to understand what to do when a dog bites.

Aggressive Propensities of a Dog

There are many ways for a dog owner to determine if he or she was at fault for an attack perpetrated by his or her pet. In Texas, dogs who seriously harm or kill a person will be taken by local animal control pending a hearing. Other states, counties or large cities could have similar regulations.

One Bite Rule

In states like Texas and Virginia, a one bite rule might be in effect, and that could influence the type of liability an owner may face. If this rule is in effect, the injured party must show that the dog has bitten or attacked someone in the past. Furthermore, it must be shown that the owner of the animal knew about this past incident or incidents.

Dangerous Breeds

More than 700 U.S. cities have declared certain breeds, including pit bulls, to be dangerous and a potential hazard to public safety. Those who are allowed to own them may face stricter scrutiny, such as paying higher licensing fees, or otherwise take responsibility for their actions. If a dog is deemed to be a dangerous breed, a person may face strict liability rules in a civil case.

Past Behavior

If a dog has been violent or aggressive in the past, its owner should know that it has the capability to repeat those actions. This may be true regardless of the dog's breed or broader personality traits. In other words, a golden retriever that has bitten someone for no reason in the past may do so again even though the breed is usually considered to be friendly in general.

Premises Liability and Invited Guests

If a person has been invited onto premises where a dog is present, the owner of that dog generally owes that person a duty of care. In other words, the property owner must take reasonable steps to avoid creating dangerous conditions. In a scenario involving a person with a dog, a property owner may be required to lock it in another room or keep it confined to an outdoor space when a guest is present.

Possible Exceptions to Liability


If a dog is provoked in any manner, liability may shift to the person who may have caused the attack to occur. This may be true even if a person didn't mean to provoke it. For instance, a small child may have pulled a dog's tail not knowing that it could result in a bite. In that case, the parent of the child may be liable instead of the dog owner. Other forms of provocation may include hitting the animal, throwing objects at it or restraining it against its will.


A trespasser is someone who is not allowed to be on the premises or shows up uninvited. For example, if a burglar entered the home, the dog's owner is generally not liable if the animal attacks that person. However, the law may make exceptions in the event that the trespasser was a child. This is generally because children aren't expected to understand the ramifications of their actions.

Known Risk

If a homeowner puts up a "beware of dog" sign, an individual assumes the risk of stepping onto that person's yard or entering that home. In the event that a person knows that a dog may strike based on prior interactions with the animal, he or she might also assume the risk that comes with being near it. A person could also assume the risk if he or she enters its backyard space or enters a room where the dog was secured.

Illegal Activity

Those who were engaged in illegal acts when they were hurt by the dog may be liable for some or all damages that they suffer as a result. For instance, if someone tried to steal the dog when he or she was bit, that would be an illegal act. If an animal attacked after being kicked or in defense of its human owner, that may also negate any liability its owner may face.

It can be a challenge knowing exactly what to do when a dog bites, so it may be best to consult with an attorney. An attorney will review the case to determine how liable an individual may be. From there, it might be possible to settle a case or have it thrown out entirely depending on the facts of the case.