Half of all U.S. households owned at least one dog in 2019, according to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States.

If a dog bites someone on your property, you may be liable for the dog bite injury as the owner of the dog or under a theory of premises liability. Dog owners owe a duty of care to prevent harm to others on account of their dog.  Property owners also owe a duty of care to people on their property. 

So who is responsible if a dog bites someone on your property? It depends.

Duty of Care: Premises Liability

Homeowners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for visitors.  Property owners can be legally responsible for injuries caused by the unsafe condition of their premises (the land and buildings owned by them). The degree of care owed depends on what kind of visitor is on the premises: invitee, licensee, or trespasser.

Invitees are present on the premises at the invitation of the owner. Friends, family, and neighbors at your home for a dinner party are invitees. Customers who shop in a store are invitees of the business owner.

Owners are responsible to inspect their premises and warn invitees of known dangers. If an owner knows or has reason to know that the dog may cause harm to an invitee, they have to take reasonable steps to prevent injury from the dog. 

Licensees are present on the premises for their own reasons. Commercial couriers, mail deliverers, and utility workers are licensees. Property owners owe licensees the duty of warning of known dangers on the premises. If a property owner knows a dog is dangerous, they should inform the licensee. 

Trespassers are those who are present without the property owner’s consent.  When a person cuts across your yard, they are a trespasser. Owners are only responsible if their acts or negligence caused the trespasser’s injury. 

One Bite Rule

Responsible dog owners take every precaution when it comes to dog bite prevention. Unfortunately, dog bites happen anyway.

The causes of dog bites vary.  The frequency and severity of bites can be influenced by breed attitude norms. Incidents of biting might arise as a result of the acts of the dog owner, a child or their parent, or a stranger moving suddenly. 

In general, dog owners should recognize the signs of aggression in their dogs and should be aware of their dog’s unique triggers. Texas uses the one-bite rule. Under the one-bite rule, a dog owner cannot be held liable for a dog bite unless:

The dog either:

  • Bit someone or
  • Behaved as if they wanted to bite someone, and
  • The owner knew of the dog’s behavior

To prove a dog’s history of biting, your attorney might use veterinary records, incident reports, or surveillance video. 

There are exceptions to the one-bite rule. Even if a dog has not bitten anyone or displayed vicious behavior, dog owners must not handle their dogs negligently. 

Dog owners have to act with care to prevent harm to others when walking their pets in public, at a park, or in a busy intersection. If a dog owner’s negligent behavior causes an accident that harms another person, the dog owner can be liable for damages. 

In Texas, a person’s acts constitute negligence per se if they violate a law of the state, county, or city. While Texas does not have a statewide leash law, if the county or city where the incident occurs has such a law, the person in possession of the dog may be held liable if the dog was off-leash when the bite occurred. 

Because we are responsible to keep others safe on our property when a dog bites someone on your property, more than one party might be responsible. The owner of the dog, the owner of the property, and the person who was bitten all have potential responsibility for the bite. To protect your interests, contact an attorney to discuss the details of your case.