Defenders Investigation: 'One Bite Law'

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist Derek Rasor

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on September 16, 2013 at 10:26 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 16 at 10:40 PM

AUSTIN -- A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered an old Texas law some say allows irresponsible dog owners off the hook for vicious attacks.

"I always thought beauty was without imperfection," explained Danielle Melaun, who lives in Travis County.

For the past seven months, the house-keeper has been trying to redefine beauty after she walked into a client’s home and a dog nearly bit off her upper lip. Melaun says she didn’t provoke the beagle-mix.

"I had extensive damage to my face and was covered in blood. I didn't feel so beautiful."

Melaun says she's undergone two surgeries and needs more. She estimates her medical expenses could total $100,000 to reconstruct her lip and face.

Then, she got more bad news. Her attorney, Jay Doyle, told her in order to get her medical bills reimbursed, she would have to prove the dog had bitten someone else before.

The Lone Star state is one of 18 in the country to have a statute on its books called the “One Bite Law.” Under the statute, an owner doesn't face any civil repercussions if it's the first time their dog bit someone.

"You can sue, but you can't win unless you can show [a previous] bite has taken place or you can make your claim through another avenue, such as showing a leash law was violated or something of that nature," contends Doyle.

According to Austin Animal Services reports reviewed by the Defenders, dog bites have more than doubled since 2003 from 764 to 1,551 in 2012.

In 2012, State Farm ranked Texas third in the nation for the amount of claims paid to dog bite victims. While victim advocates say that's more reason to abolish Texas' one bite law, others worry it could open the flood-gates for lawsuits.

Alicia Corbett owns three dogs in Austin. While she agrees owners should be responsible for their dogs, she doesn't want to get sued if someone provokes her pets.

“If you step on a tail or you step on a foot, or yank on an ear the wrong way, they might just have a gut reaction. I don't want to have to worry about breaking the bank if my dog has a bad day or someone steps on it," said Corbett. Melaun, a dog owner herself, hopes lawmakers will change the law.

"As a dog bite victim, I do not believe the burden of proof should fall on me. I believe the proof is in my scarring," argues Melaun.

The one bite law does not prevent criminal charges for dog attacks. Two years ago, a San Antonio lawmaker tried to pass legislation requiring dog owners to carry a $100,000 insurance policy, but the bill failed.

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