Every year in the United States, almost five million people are bitten by dogs, and approximately one-fifth of those bites required medical care.
Sadly, 39 people died from dog bites last year.
North Carolina places 14th in the number of dog bites in the United States, higher than many states with greater populations.
If you or a relative is bitten by a dog, can you sue the owner?
The short answer is yes, but you ought to know the conditions under which an owner can be sued.
The “one bite rule” describes the circumstances under which an animal owner may be held responsible for injuries caused by their pets.
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Dog bites in North Carolina covered by a statute which makes dog owners strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs in certain circumstances. Strict liability means that the owner will be responsible for damages caused by his dog, even if he is not found to be negligent. Strict liability applies when the dog has already been identified as a dangerous dog, and later injures a person or causes damage to property.
A dog is identified to be dangerous if it has seriously injured or killed a person without being provoked, if the owner is keeping or training the dog for dog fighting, or if the local animal control agency has previously identified it as “potentially dangerous.”
The “potentially dangerous” classification is where the “one bite” rule comes into play. If a dog has previously bitten a person, attacked or killed another animal, or acted aggressively toward a person, it may be regarded as potentially dangerous. Aggressive behaviors may include things like snapping and showing teeth, jumping on people, lunging at someone, or chasing after people.
If one of the three conditions has been met and the dog has been identified as a dangerous animal, the owner will be liable for any injuries it causes whether the injury is caused by a bite or by some other means. If someone is being chased by the dog and falls, for instance, the owner will be responsible for injuries sustained in the fall. The owner will also be liable for property damage caused by the dog.
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North Carolina law also makes an owner responsible for damages caused by a dog over six months old, if it is loose after dark.
There are some exceptions to the strict liability law. The owner may not be responsible for injuries caused by a dog to an individual who is trespassing on the owner’s property, attempting to commit a crime, or tormenting the dog. A trespasser must understand that he is trespassing, however, for this exception to apply. A lost child, for instance, is not willfully trespassing, and the owner will be responsible if his dog bites the child.
Depending on where in North Carolina you live, certain “dangerous breeds” like pit bulls, may be regulated or even banned. Failure to follow any regulations regarding dangerous breeds can also result in strict liability.
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If you have been bitten or injured by a dog, report the bite to the owner and to the local animal control authorities. If the dog has already been reported for aggressive actions, the owner may be required to take steps to protect his neighbors, like having a muzzle on the dog when it is outside. If the dog has already been reported, the strict liability law will apply.
Homeowner’s insurance policies may cover dog bites but will have caps on the amount they will pay. 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 excess beyond the policy limit would be the responsibility of the owner.
If you have been injured or bitten by an aggressive dog, speak with a local attorney who can advise you of your rights under North Carolina law. The attorneys at Campbell and Associates have represented many dog bite victims in North Carolina and can help you get the settlement you deserve. Call us today at 704-769-2316 for a free case evaluation.