I love dogs. The majority of people love dogs – even the breeds that have a bad reputation. (The dogs, not the people). But even if you love dogs or any other domesticated animal, you don’t deserve to be injured by one.
The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that there are 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States and insurance companies estimate medical expenses in excess of $1 billion a year.
Texas recognizes that a domesticated animal is one that is kept by humans in a tame condition (e.g., dogs, pigs, horses). In other words, an animal that is by custom devoted to the service of mankind at the time and in the place in which it is kept.
If you are injured by a domesticated animal, lets look at how the law can help you…
First of all, Texas recognizes that being injured by a domesticated animal is a strict-liability cause of action. In other words, there is no requirement to prove that the animal’s owner was negligent or intended for you to be harmed. The fact that it happened is what strict liability focuses on.
Let’s look at the four elements that we would need to prove in court:
1. The defendant owned or possessed the animal.
This is a straightforward analysis but it is important to note that even a premises owner (e.g., landlord) could fall under this definition if they allowed the dangerous animal to be kept on site.
2. The animal had dangerous propensities abnormal to its class.
The plaintiff must prove that the animal’s vicious or aggressive tendencies were not normal for that kind of animal. For example, a horse known as “nervous, flighty, irritable, and troublesome” could be viewed as having dangerous propensities abnormal to other horses.
The animal’s “class” is not limited to a specific breed of that animal. For example, a pit bull should be compared to all other dogs (even to the beloved Dachshund), not just to other pit bulls.
3. The defendant knew or had reason to know the animal had dangerous propensities.
In other words, would a reasonable person that had the same information as the owner before the injury occurred believe that the animal had dangerous propensities?
Just because the horse is named “Buck” is not enough. Or if the dog had never acted aggressively before, then the defendant would not have known about the animals dangerous propensities.
Contrast that with an owner who did not leash his dog after being told that it attacked someone before. A reasonable person would conclude that the animal had dangerous propensities.
4. The animal’s dangerous propensities were the producing cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
A “producing cause” is a contributing cause that, in a natural sequence, produces or was a substantial factor to the plaintiff’s injury. In lay terms, can we say that the injury was caused by the animal?
Defense – Assumption of the Risk
Even though you might be able to prove the four elements above, your case could be neutered (pun intended) if you knew beforehand that the animal was dangerous but assumed the risk anyway.
If you have been injured by a domesticated animal, you have only two years to take legal action.
Don’t make assumptions that you might not have a case because of other facts. For example, just because the dog was chained or because you might have been negligent in some way does not let the owner off the hook.
But also know that if you trespassed, you might be subjected to a counterclaim.
Either way, call me today so I can evaluate the circumstances and give you some valuable advice.