A person about to hit a dachshund while the dog is snarling at them

Dogs are considered to be man’s best friend which makes it that much more surprising when a dog suddenly becomes aggressive and bites someone. Dog bites can lead to serious injuries, and in some cases, emotional trauma. However, determining who’s at fault for the dog bite – the victim or the dog owner – depends on whether or not the victim provoked the dog.

By law, provocation is any action from an individual that elicits a radical change in the dog’s behavior. This principle determines who is at fault when a victim seeks compensation for medical expenses and damages after a bite. Here are the guidelines for what is considered provoking a dog.

Understanding the Texas “One Bite Rule”

Unlike other types of personal injury cases, Texas doesn’t have a civil liability law that specifically addresses dog bites. However, the Texas Supreme Court has set standards and understanding of the personal injury law to address animal attack cases. All of this can be found in the Marshall Vs. Ranne case.

What Is the Marshall vs. Ranne Case?

In this court case, Paul Marshall sued John Ranne for damages he suffered when Ranne’s boar severely injured his hand. The court went over the evidence involving this particular case along with other personal injury cases involving animal attacks. It was decided that Texas would hold the owner of an animal responsible for an attack unless it could be proven that the animal was provoked by the victim.

This became known as the “one bite rule.” This rule states that an owner will be held liable for damages caused by an animal known to be dangerous or that has the potential to be dangerous. However, if the animal has no record of being aggressive, the defendant must prove that the animal was aggressive before they can gain compensation for their injuries.

What Constitutes Provocation of a Dog?

When a dog feels anxious or threatened by a situation, they are instinctively driven to one of two actions: fight or flight. If the dog can escape a situation, it will generally do so, as this is the safest of the two options. If the dog feels trapped, however, it may show signs of aggression, such as snarling or getting low to the ground. These behaviors are meant as a warning. If the individual threatening the dog does not cease their behavior, then the dog will generally attack.

Examples of provoking behavior include:

  • Hitting the dog
  • Trapping the dog in a small space
  • Startling the dog
  • Stepping on its tail
  • Pulling on its tail, ears, legs, or fur

What Is Unintentional Provocation?

Another action that may be considered provocation is making threatening gestures to the dog’s owner. For example, the plaintiff and the defendant were in a heated argument in the defendant’s house. The plaintiff made a swift movement towards the defendant as if to hit him. The defendant’s dog, who was lying down, suddenly jumps up and bites the plaintiff. In this case, the dog is reacting based on his natural pack instincts. Since the plaintiff made a threatening advance toward the defendant, the dog reacted protectively, which is normal behavior for a dog.

Actions such as startling a dog or stepping on its tail are sometimes unintentional. Despite this, these actions are still considered provocation and can result in the plaintiff being deemed partially responsible for the dog bite.

What Actions Are Considered Non-Provoking?

Dog owners have the responsibility of knowing the personality of their pets, as well as training them to behave in public or around guests. If a dog owner knows that their dog is nervous by nature, they are responsible for keeping the dog away from environments where an incident is likely to occur. The following actions are not considered provocation under normal circumstances:

  • Walking toward a dog
  • Carrying a package and walking toward the dog and owner
  • Addressing the owner
  • Being seated then rising and facing the dog
  • Reaching to pet a dog
  • Playing with a dog and patting him
  • Feeding a dog
  • Helping to transport an injured dog
  • Extending a hand or arm over a fence

If a dog owner knows that their dog is generally nervous in certain situations, it is their responsibility to make anyone approaching the dog aware of the fact. This gives that individual time to change their behavior to help keep the dog more at ease.

If You Have Been Bitten By an Aggressive Dog, You Need to Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog, do not let a negligent owner try to claim that you provoked the dog; contact the personal injury attorneys at Hernandez Law Group. Juan Hernandez is part of the 2% of Texas attorneys who are board-certified to practice personal injury law, so you can be sure to get the expertise you need. Our vast experience in the courtroom can help you claim the compensation you deserve for medical expenses and other damages resulting from a dog bite. Call us today for a free consultation.