In Texas, there are several laws and code that apply to dog bite cases. Because many of these are promulgated by city and/or county departments, they differ slightly depending upon where the incident occurred. Som places have leash laws and others do not. Dangerous dog laws may also vary from site to site. Because of these variances, a person investigating a dog bite claim needs to know where to look.
In addition to the above, proving liability for a dog attack in Texas can be tricky. Just owning the dog is not enough to impose liability. There must be evidence that the dog was dangerous or vicious and that the owner had knowledge of this. It is this knowledge that triggers a duty to act.
Finding the Law
In order to find the law applicable to your case, you have to start by asking where it happened. In Texas, you first look to the municipality. Most cities have municipal codes regulating dogs which will may include leash laws, dangerous dog laws or both. If the incident did not happen within a defined city limits, often there will be county codes that apply "to all unincorporated territories within the county." Many of the city and county codes are avaiable online at www.municode.com (However, for purposes of judicial notice, I would recommend obtaining a certified copy from the applicable city hall or county government.)
In addition to the above, the Texas Health and Safety Code contains dangerous dog laws under Title 10, Chapter 822 which impose both criminal and civil penalties for dog owners that negligently allow their pet to attack a person. These laws should be reviewed even where there are municipal and/or county laws that apply.
Investigating the Claim
Most of the statutes and codes that can be used to impose liability in a dog bite case are codifications of the Texas common law "one free bite" rule. In other words, to prove that the owner knew the dog is dangerous, you need to show he/she was aware of a prior attack.
In order to find evidence of a prior attack, the first thing you should do is to send an open records request to the city and county animal control departments requesting specifically information regarding any and all attacks pertaining to the dog in question, the dog owner and the residence where the dog is housed. Upon the first attack by a dog, the dog will be given an identification number, much like the spin numbers given to convicts. That nuber can be used to see if the dog has other bite reports filed against him in the same county and/or city.
If there are no prior bite reports, the next best thing to do is locate the phone numbers for the neighbors using the county tax assessor's website and call them.
Finding the law and investigating a dog attack case in Texas can often be done inexpensively and effectively using web resources. All of the above websites are free to use by anyone. Open records requests generally will require a small fee for copies, but the cost is very small and can give a victim or his/her attorney a quick glimpse at what evidence they will have at hand to win their case.
Additional resources provided by the author
For additional information on handling dog bit cases, there is an webinar (online legal seminar) avaiable from Strafford Publications that was co-taught by Paul H. Cannon of Simmons and Fletcher entitled Dog Bite Victim Representation or oyu can also visit the dog bite section of his law firm's website.