This past Valentine’s Day, Chip Stone (a sculptor) gave his longtime girlfriend, Sarah Bellum (a neurosurgeon), an adorable 3-year-old Yorkshire Terrier that he rescued at the Dallas animal shelter. Sarah immediately fell in love with the affectionate and docile 6-pound dog that the prior owner had, for some unknown reason, affectionately named Piranha. This past weekend, Sarah took Piranha for a stroll through the Dallas Arboretum. Piranha was off-leash but walking right next to Sarah. What happened next is still a blur in Sarah’s mind, but apparently, Piranha spotted a young girl walking a large labradoodle about 50 yards away and made a mad dash towards the other dog. In the melee that ensured, both the young girl and the labradoodle were seriously bitten. Sarah is now fearful that the City may seize her precious Piranha and perhaps have the dog destroyed. Moreover, Sarah is concerned that she may have personal liability. Sarah recalls hearing that every dog gets “one free bite.” Will this save Sarah and Piranha
Probably not. Texas does indeed follow the “one free bite” rule. Under the “one free bite” rule, if you have been bitten by a dog, the owner cannot be held liable for an injury caused by the first bite inflicted by their dog. Nonetheless, Sarah will be considered liable for Piranha’s attack if: (1) she knew that Piranha had either already bitten someone or had the propensity to bite; (2) the attack was caused by Sarah’s negligence; (3) the attack was caused by a violation of an animal control law; or, (4) the attack was caused intentionally by Sarah. In this case, even though Sarah did not know that Piranha had the propensity to bite, she can still be held liable for the attack because of her negligence and for not complying with Dallas’ leash law. Even though Texas is classified as a “one free bite” state, it is likely that Sarah will be held civilly, and even potentially criminally, responsible for the injuries to the young girl and her dog. Piranha may also be seized until a court decides what to do with her.
A bill was recently proposed in the Texas legislature that would require some dog owners to carry at least $100,000 in liability coverage if the owner has an un-neutered, male dog that is 20 pounds or heavier and that is not restrained at all times. The insurance would be used to compensate victims for personal injury or property damage.