Every year in the United States, roughly five million people are bitten by dogs.
About twenty percent of those bites are serious enough to need medical treatment, and 39 people died in 2017from dog bites.
North Carolina ranks 14th among the 50 states in the number of dog bites.
Can the owner of a dog be held responsible for injuries caused by his dog?
Fortunately, there is some recourse available. Most people have heard the phrase, “every dog gets one bite.”
North Carolina law addresses the responsibility of owners of dogs who have had their one bite.
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The North Carolina law addressing dog bites is a strict liability law, meaning that, when certain conditions are met, the owner may be accountable for injuries caused by a pet without specific proof of negligence. Strict liability applies when:
- The dog has been identified to be a ‘dangerous dog”.
- The dog causes harm to a person or damages property.
A “dangerous animal” is defined as one that has previously killed or seriously injured a person without provocation, is kept and/or trained for the purpose of dog fighting, or has been classified by local animal control authorities as “potentially dangerous.” A dog will be identified as “potentially dangerous” if it has bitten a person, no matter how serious the bite was. It may also be identified as “potentially dangerous” if it has attacked or killed another animal, or behaved aggressively toward a person. If a dog regularly chases people, threatens people by snarling or baring its teeth, or tries to knock someone down, it can be identified as “potentially dangerous.”
An owner will be accountable for injuries or damages caused by a pet that has been identified as a dangerous animal. The owner will have to pay for injuries from bites, as well as for secondary injuries, such as injury from a fall when running away from the dog. The owner is also required to pay for any property damage.
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If a person is bitten by a dog that does not fall into the “dangerous dog” classification, he may still sue the owner for damages if the dog was more than six months old and was running loose after dark.
The strict liability law does not apply when:
- The injured person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property
- The injured person was attempting to commit a crime, or
- The injured person was intentionally provoking the dog. A person is willfully trespassing only if he is aware he is on the property. A child who wanders onto the dog owner’s property by mistake would not be a willful trespasser.
Animal control regulations vary in different localities, and violation of local regulations can trigger strict liability. For example, some counties regulate certain breeds, and some ban so-called dangerous breeds, like pit bulls, altogether.
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Report any bites or aggressive behavior to the dog owner and to the local animal control agency. If a dog has bitten someone or has shown aggressive behavior, the owner may be required to muzzle the dog when it is outside, or to restrain the dog. Local authorities will also know if the dog has previously been reported, triggering the strict liability rules.
Homeowner’s insurance may include dog bites, but there are usually limits on damages. You may sue the dog’s owner for the total amount of your damages, but you may only recover from the insurance company for their policy limit. Any amounts over and above the policy limit would be the responsibility of the owner.
If you have been injured or bitten by an aggressive dog, consult a local attorney who will inform you of your rights under North Carolina law. The lawyers at Campbell & Associates have represented dog bite sufferers in North Carolina for many years, and know exactly how to get you the compensation you deserve. Call us for a no-cost consultation at 704-769-2316.