"Texas' "first free bite" rule — allowing dog owners to escape most legal liability if a previously gentle dog attacks — does not free owners from the responsibility of stopping an attack once it begins, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The unanimous and emphatic opinion reversed two lower courts, which ruled that Genevia Bushnell could not sue the owner of three dogs that attacked her in Fredericksburg in 2001, leaving wounds on her legs, arms and back that took more than two years to heal.
"We're ecstatic at the result," said Bruce Bennett, Bushnell's Austin-based appellate lawyer. "It's your dog, you have a responsibility to try to stop the attack. That's what the court recognized here."
Bushnell claimed the dogs' owner, Janet Mott, watched the attack from several feet away, did nothing to intervene and even scolded Bushnell's son for trying to calm the dogs so he could rescue his mother.
Mott and her lawyers argued that prior court rulings excused dog owners from responsibility to stop an attack or render aid afterward — if the owner had no previous indication that the pet was potentially violent. The so-called first-free-bite rule penalizes owners who know their pet is dangerous but limits legal liability for those who reasonably believe their dog poses no risk to others."