When a dog bites you, it is a terrifying experience. Afterward, your main focus likely will be treating your wound and avoiding the dog. But if you sustained significant injuries and emotional trauma and want to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner, you need to act quickly.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Claims in Texas?
The dog bite injury statute of limitations in Texas is two years. A statute of limitations is the law that sets the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. When a dog bites you, the law classifies your legal cause of action as a personal injury claim. Texas state law requires victims to file personal injury lawsuits no later than two years from when the injury occurred. In the case of dog bites, that means two years from the day the dog bit you.
Is the Statute of Limitations Different for Children?
Yes. Texas law makes exceptions for children and those of unsound mind. When dogs bite children, the children have two years from their 18th birthday to bring a lawsuit. This delay in starting the clock running on the statute of limitations is called tolling. The law also tolls the statute of limitations for those with mental disabilities until two years after they regain legal competency. It’s important to note, though, that the clock does not stop if you become of unsound mind after the limitations period begins.
What Happens If I File Late?
Once the two-year period is up, you cannot file a dog bite injury lawsuit. If you try, the court will dismiss the case. That is why it is important to get an attorney’s help early on so you have time to collect all the information you need and prepare a case. A delay in determining who owns the dog, for instance, will not excuse missing the deadline.
Elements of a Dog Bite Injury Claim
Some states have specific civil liability statutes setting forth when someone is liable for a dog bite injury inflicted on someone else. Texas does not. But that does not mean Texas does not still hold dog owners responsible when their dogs bite people.
When you file a lawsuit based on a dog bite, one of two scenarios occurs. If the dog has never bitten anyone before and the owner had no reason to think the dog was dangerous, then you must prove the owner was negligent in some way to recover compensation for your injury. To do that, you must show:
- The person you sued owned or cared for the dog;
- The owner owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring others;
- The owner breached that duty somehow; and
- That breach proximately caused your injuries.
Only if you prove all these elements can you recover monetary damages.
The other possible scenario is where the owner had reason to know that the dog was dangerous. Typically an owner knows this because the dog bit someone in the past. For this situation, the Texas Supreme Court established a one-bite rule that imposes strict liability upon owners of dangerous dogs.
To recover on a strict liability claim, you must prove:
- The person owned or cared for the dog;
- The dog had abnormally dangerous propensities;
- The owner knew or had reason to know the dog had dangerous propensities; and
- Those propensities caused the injury.
The court will hold the owners of a dangerous dog liable even if they exercised the utmost care in trying to prevent it from causing harm. It will not, however, impose liability on owners for injury to trespassers.
The legal standards described so far are civil claims the victim makes against the dog owner in a civil lawsuit for damages. Separately, Texas may hold dog owners criminally liable when their dog bites someone.
Under Texas state law, when a dog owner is criminally negligent in securing their dog or harbors a dog known to be dangerous, and the dog bites someone and causes serious bodily injury, it is a felony. Local ordinances, such as Dallas City Code Section 7-4.14, make it a misdemeanor for a dog owner to fail to secure a dog that causes bodily injury with an unprovoked bite. But because these are criminal charges, the government prosecutor, not a civil attorney, will handle the case.
Any criminal prosecution of the dog owner is entirely separate from your civil claim for damages. You don’t need to wait until the criminal case concludes to start your own lawsuit against the dog owner. In fact, doing so may hurt your claim because you may run out of time to file under the statute of limitations. Regardless of whether the state pursues criminal charges against a criminally negligent dog owner, you should reach out to an experienced dog bite attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
Is the Statute of Limitations Different for Other Types of Cases Related to a Dog Bite Injury?
A few other types of civil claims relate to dog bite injuries, but they all have a two-year statute of limitations as well. For example, an injured person may sue a landlord for a dog bite that happens in a common area owned or run by the landlord. Because this claim still involves personal injury claims based on negligence, the statute of limitations remains two years.
Another possible claim involves alleging that the owner failed to stop a dog attack after it started. This too would be a negligence claim.
If the dog attack causes the victim’s death, the victim’s family may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Texas law, wrongful death claims also have a two-year statute of limitations. However, the statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim starts from the date of death, not the date of the injury.
One final alternative type of suit is one for bystander emotional distress. This means a family member or someone very close to the victim witnessed the dog bite and suffered emotional distress as a result of seeing their loved one hurt. The statute of limitations for these suits would also be two years from the date of the dog bite because they are derivative of the main personal injury or wrongful death case.
When Should I Talk to a Lawyer?
You should contact a dog bite lawyer as soon as possible after the dog bite. The attorneys at the Hartley Law Firm specifically focus on dog bite law as one of our primary practice areas. As trusted Dallas dog bite lawyers, we know what steps to take to protect your rights under the dog bite injury statute of limitations in Texas.
Once you retain our firm, we will immediately start working to obtain medical records, contact witnesses, and pursue insurance coverage. Starting this process early allows us to build and file a strong case well before the statute of limitations expires.