The Texas Supreme Court has issued an very interesting and important new tort ruling: the state’s “first free bite” rule does not excuse an owner of the duty to intervene and render aide once an attack begins. The ruling for dog-bite victim
Genevia Bushnell not only alters the understanding of the one-free-bite rule but alters the “no-duty-to-rescue” rule.
Bushnell had been barred from suing the owner of the three dogs who attacked her in Fredericksburg in 2001, leaving wounds on her legs, arms and back that took more than two years to heal.
The dogs’ owner, Janet Mott, was accused of watching the attack from several feet away, doing nothing, and even scolding Bushnell’s son for trying to calm the dogs. In her brief, Bushnell’s lawyers wrote that the “sweep and barbarity of Mott’s position is breathtaking.”
According to Bushnell’s account in a state Supreme Court brief — which Mott “generally” agreed with in a later filing — Bushnell entered Mott’s fenced front yard and knocked on the door. When Mott opened the door, three dogs pushed through, circled behind Bushnell, pulled her down the porch steps and began biting “from all directions.”
Mott did not intercede and later admonished Bushnell to get up, saying she had not been bitten, the brief said.
Bushnell’s son, who watched the attack from their car, took her to an emergency room to be treated for 15 dog bites, including one that needed 31 stitches to close, the brief said.
Bushnell sued Mott for the $50,000 limit on her homeowners insurance, alleging that the attack left her with nerve damage, continued swelling in her foot and infections that required repeated operations.
Now, a dog owner in Texas “owes a duty to stop the dog from attacking a person after the attack has begun.”
The ruling is particularly interesting because the no-duty-to-rescue rule has long held that a person is not required to render aid or intervene when he or she did not cause of accident or injury. Thus, under such famous cases as Yania v. Bigan, you can literally watch a person die under this common law rule. If Mott did not cause the attack and was not liable for it, she could claim that she fell into the category of the no-duty-to-rescue rule. However, the Texas Supreme Court says that once the attack begins, you can be liable for failing to act despite the lack of liability or responsibility for the initial attack.
This ruling (which is featured on How Appealing) can be accessed directly at this link.
For the full story, click here.