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Liability for Dog Bites on Someone Else’s Porch in Texas

dogIn a recent Texas dog bite decision, the plaintiff sued after suffering injuries from a dog bite. The case arose in 2013 when he went with his girlfriend to the defendants’ house to meet the girlfriend’s father, who was staying with the defendants. He didn’t know the defendants, and the defendants didn’t know that either the plaintiff or his girlfriend were planning to come by the house.

The plaintiff and his girlfriend stood on the front porch and knocked. Nobody was home. After some time, the girlfriend opened the unlocked front door. The defendants’ dog, who was a 22-month-old Akita, came to the door. The plaintiff had stayed on the front porch and tried to shut the door when he saw the Akita. The dog went through the open door and bit him. Even though he was bitten, the plaintiff pushed the dog back into the house and shut the door. He had to go to the hospital.

He sued the defendants for negligent handling of an animal and for strict liability for a dangerous domesticated animal. He added negligence theories to an amended complaint. He claimed they were negligent per se for violating a duty set forth under section 822.042 of the Texas Health and Safety Code and that they should be held liable under premises liability law. He later amended again to add negligence per se. The trial court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion.

The plaintiff appealed. He argued that it was a mistake to grant the motion because he’d produced more than a scintilla of evidence on the premises liability, strict liability, and negligent handling claims. The appellate court pointed out that all of his claims were based on the same set of facts. However, a basic element of the strict liability claim was actual or constructive knowledge of the dog’s vicious, dangerous, or mischievous nature. An essential element of all of their other claims was proximate cause.

The appellate court reasoned that to recover damages for strict liability by a dangerous domesticated animal, the plaintiff needed to show:  (1) the defendant owned an animal with dangerous propensities abnormal to its class, and (2) those propensities caused his injuries.

To recover for negligent handling, he needed to prove:  (1) the defendant owned the animal, (2) he owed a duty to use reasonable care to stop others from being injured by the animal, (3) he breached this duty, and (4) the breach legally caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

To claim damages under a premises liability theory, a plaintiff would have to show his status as a visitor on the property.

The appellate court reasoned that the evidence presented by the plaintiffs in response to the summary judgment motion didn’t raise a factual issue about the basic element of proximate or legal cause for the negligence-based claims, or the essential element of actual or constructive knowledge of dangerous propensities for the strict liability claim.

In this case, the dog was where he had a right to be:  the defendants’ house, with no access to the outside. Viewed in the best possible light, the plaintiff was a licensee on the property, and he opened the door uninvited. He was bitten on the front porch. No evidence was submitted that the Akita had dangerous propensities. The appellate court affirmed the trial court.

If you suffer injuries from a dog bite while on somebody else’s property as a lawful visitor in Texas, the experienced San Antonio premises liability attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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