North Carolina is only one of a handful of states that follows the One Bite Rule in regards to dog bite liability. This means that a dog’s owner will not necessarily be held liable for injuring someone if his or her animal had never been violent in the past. In some cases, however, owners can be held strictly liable for all of a victim’s injuries. This area of the law is complex, so if you or your child were bitten or otherwise injured by someone else’s dog, it is critical to speak with an experienced Charlotte personal injury attorney who can help explain your legal options.
Because North Carolina follows the One Bite Rule, an injured party will be required to demonstrate to the court that the dog’s owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous and taken reasonable steps to restrain it in order to obtain compensation. Some of the most common factors used by courts to determine whether an owner had notice that a dog was dangerous include whether there is evidence of:
- Previous bites;
- Prior threatening behavior, such as snapping and growling;
- A tendency to jump on people;
- A tendency to fight with other dogs;
- Special fighting training; and
- Complaints by neighbors.
North Carolina is also a contributory negligence state, which means that if a dog’s owner can establish that the injured party in any way contributed to the injury, he or she will not be held liable.
However, even when a dog injures a person for the first time, its owner will be held strictly liable for damages without a showing of negligence if the injured party can establishing that:
- The owner intentionally, knowingly, and willfully allowed his or her dog to run at large at nighttime;
- The dog was at least six months old; and
- The dog was unaccompanied by its owner or a member of the owner’s family.
If this prohibition is not violated, a person can still be liable for an injury inflicted by his or her dog if the dog is considered dangerous, which requires that it:
- Has inflicted a serious injury on another person on a prior occasion without being provoked;
- Was owned, harbored, or trained for dog fighting; or
- Was previously declared potentially dangerous by a governmental entity, such as the local animal control board.
A governmental entity will usually only label a dog as potentially dangerous if it:
- Has inflicted a bite on a person that caused broken bones or disfiguring lacerations that required hospitalization or cosmetic surgery; or
- Inflicted a severe injury or killed a domestic animal when not on its owner’s property; or
- Has approached a person in an aggressive manner while not on its owner’s property.
If a dog satisfies the criteria of a dangerous canine, and it injures a person or damages someone’s property, the dog’s owner can be held financially responsible for resulting damages. If the dog caused injuries requiring medical treatment totaling more than $100, its owner will be guilty of committing a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Once a dog owner has knowledge that an animal is dangerous it becomes illegal for an owner to:
- Leave that dog unattended on his or her property unless it is restrained indoors or in an enclosed and locked pen; and
- Permit the dog to go beyond his or her property boundary without a leash or muzzle.
If an owner transfers possession of the dog to another person, he or she is required to provide written notice to:
- The authority that labeled the dog dangerous and include the name and address of the new owner; and
- The new owner explaining the dog’s dangerous behavior and the authority’s determination.
Violating these laws is punishable as a Class 3 misdemeanor.
North Carolina law also specifically exempts owners of certain kinds of dogs from being held liable. To fall under this category, the dog in question must satisfy one of the following:
- The dog was being used by a law enforcement officer in carrying out his or her duties;
- The dog was being used in a lawful hunt;
- The dog inflicted an injury on a domestic animal while it was working as a hunting, herding, or predator control dog on its owner’s property and the injured animal was a species appropriate to the work of the dog; or
- The dog inflicted an injury on a person who was trespassing or committing a crime, tormenting, or abusing the dog or had done so in the past.
Injuries and Damages
Dog bites can have serious consequences, including:
- Torn muscles;
- Crushed bones;
- Sprains; and
- Emotional trauma.
As a result of infection, some dog bite victims suffer from fever, chills, and soreness. Treatment often requires a heavy dose of antibiotics and even additional surgeries. Bites are not the only damage that a dog can inflict. Heavier breeds can easily knock someone over, leading to broken bones, cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Some victims may even experience head trauma. The costs of treating these injuries can add up surprisingly quickly, leaving injured parties scrambling to pay the bills and get back on their feet. Fortunately, those who can establish a dog owner’s negligence or that a particular animal was dangerous, can obtain compensation for those costs, as well as the following:
- Lost wages;
- Property damage;
- Loss of future income; and
- Pain and suffering.
Many victims are children who struggle with a fear of dogs for the rest of their lives. This fear can be debilitating and cause severe anxiety. Some injured parties may even need to seek therapy, adding to the costs of recovery.
How an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer can Help
Whether a dog’s owner will be held liable for injuries inflicted by his or her dog depends largely on whether an injured party can establish that the owner had knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities. For this reason, it is especially important to obtain the advice of an attorney who is well-versed in the intricacies of North Carolina dog bite law, so if you or a loved one were bitten or injured by a dog and live in the Charlotte area, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by completing and submitting one of our contact forms and we will help you schedule a free consultation with an experienced Charlotte NC personal injury attorney.