Dog bites are an all too common problem, with more than five million reported annually.
One-fifth of reported bites need medical care. In 2017, 39 people died from dog bites.
North Carolinans love their pets, but dog bites are more frequent in North Carolina than in many states that are more populous.
Can the owner of a dog be held liable for injuries caused by his dog? The answer is yes, under certain circumstances.
The condition under which a dog owner is liable for injuries is frequently called the “one bite rule.”
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Dog owners in North Carolina are strictly responsible for injuries caused by their pets when certain conditions are met. When those conditions are met, no proof of negligence is required. The conditions are:
- The dog has previously been determined to be a ‘dangerous dog” and
- The dog causes injury 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 identified by local animal control authorities as “potentially dangerous.” The “potentially dangerous” classification is where the “one bite” rule comes into play. The “one bite” may not even be a bite. Attacking and/or killing another animal or behaving in a threatening manner toward a person are actions that will lead to being classified as “potentially dangerous.” A dog that chases or dashes at people, snarls or growls, or regularly jumps on people may be considered aggressive.
The owner of a dog that has been designated as a dangerous animal will be held responsible for any damages caused by the dog. The owner will have to pay for injuries from bites, and also for secondary injuries, such as an injury from a fall when running away from the dog. 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 more than six months old, and is running loose at night.
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There are some exceptions to the strict liability law. The owner can avoid liability if he shows that the injured person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, trying to commit a crime, or abusing or tormenting the dog. Willful trespass means that the person must know that he is on the owner’s property. A lost child, for example, is not willfully trespassing, and the owner will be liable if his dog injures the child.
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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Always report any dog bite to the owner and to your local animal control authority. The animal control agency may require an owner to restrain or muzzle a dog that has been known to exhibit aggressive tendencies. If the dog has previously been reported for biting or acting in a hostile manner, the strict liability rule applies.
A claim against a dog owner for injuries will generally be covered by his homeowner’s insurance policy. 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 damages 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 advise you of your rights under North Carolina law. At Campbell & Associates, our dog bite experts are committed to assisting clients like you. Call us for a free consultation at 704-769-2316.