Millions of dog bites are documented in the United States each year.
Many bites are severe enough to need a doctor’s care, and a few are fatal.
Dog bites are more common in North Carolina than in many more heavily populated states.
If you or a relative is bitten by a dog, can you file suit against the owner?
In some circumstances, an owner will be responsible for injuries arising from a bite or attack.
Most people have heard that every dog gets one bite. North Carolina law defines that concept.
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North Carolina law provides for strict liability for dog owners in certain circumstances. This means that, in many cases, a dog owner will be automatically responsible for injuries caused by a dog, even if he is not negligent. Strict liability applies when a dog injures someone or causes property damage after being identified as a “dangerous animal.”
A dog is identified as a dangerous animal in any one of three circumstances:
- The dog has killed or seriously injured a person.
- The dog is being kept or trained for dog fighting.
- The dog has been identified by local authorities as “potentially dangerous.”
The “potentially dangerous” classification is where the “one bite” rule enters into play. The “one bite” may not even be a bite. Attacking and/or killing another animal or acting in an aggressive manner toward a person are habits that will lead to being identified as “potentially dangerous.” A dog that chases or leaps at people, snarls or growls, or regularly jumps on people may be considered aggressive.
Once a dog has been classified as a dangerous animal by meeting one of the three criteria, the owner can be strictly liable for injuries caused by the dog. The owner will be responsible not just for bites but will be liable for injuries caused if the dog knocks someone down, or if the dog chases someone and the person falls. The owner will also be liable for property damage caused by the dog.
Even when the dog has not been classified as dangerous, North Carolina law makes a dog owner accountable for bites or injuries if the dog is over six months old, and is running loose after dark.
There are some exceptions to the strict liability law.
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The owner can avoid liability if he proves that the injured person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, trying to commit a crime, or attacking or taunting the dog. Willful trespass means that the person must be aware that he is on the owner’s property. A lost child, for instance, is not willfully trespassing, and the owner will be liable if his dog injures the child.
Violating local animal control regulations can also trigger strict liability. For example, some counties prohibit certain breeds that they have identified as dangerous.
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Always report any dog bite to the owner and to your 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 already been reported, triggering the strict liability rules.
Most homeowner’s insurance policies cover dog bites but may limit their coverage. You may sue the dog’s owner for the total amount of your losses, but you may only recover from the insurance company for their policy limit. Any excess over and above the policy limit would be the responsibility of the owner.
If you have been injured or bitten by an aggressive dog, talk to a local lawyer who can inform you of your rights under North Carolina law. At Campbell & Associates, our dog bite experts are committed to helping clients like you. Call us for a free consultation at 704-769-2316.