Millions of dog bites are reported in America each year.
About twenty percent of those bites are serious enough to require medical attention, and 39 people died in 2017 from dog bites.
Compared to all 50 states, North Carolina ranks 14th in the number of bites reported each year.
Can the owner of a dog be held liable for injuries caused by his dog?
The answer is yes, under certain circumstances.
North Carolina, like many states, has a “one bite rule” for dangerous pets.
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The North Carolina law addressing dog bites is a strict liability law, meaning that, when specific conditions are met, the owner may be responsible for damages caused by a pet without specific evidence of negligence. Strict liability applies when:
- The dog has already been classified as a “dangerous dog,” and:
- The dog has injured a person or damaged property.
A dog is classified as dangerous in any one of three circumstances:
- The dog has killed or seriously harmed a person.
- The dog is being kept or trained for dog fighting.
- The dog has been classified by local authorities as “potentially dangerous.”
The “potentially dangerous” classification is where the “one bite” rule enters into play. A dog will be classified as “potentially dangerous” if it has bitten a person, no matter how serious the bite was. If may also be identified as “potentially dangerous” if it has attacked or killed another animal, or acted aggressively toward a person. If a dog regularly chases people, intimidates people by snarling or baring its teeth, or tries to knock someone down, it may be classified as “potentially dangerous.”
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An owner will be liable for injuries or damages caused by a pet that has been identified as a dangerous animal. The owner will be accountable not just for bites but will be accountable for injuries caused if the dog knocks someone down, or if the dog chases someone and the person falls. The owner is also required to pay for any property damage.
Even if the dog has not been identified 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.
The strict liability law does not apply when:
- The injured person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, although the person must be aware that he is trespassing. A child who wanders onto the dog owner’s property by mistake would not be a willful trespasser.
- The injured person was trying to commit a crime, or
- The injured person was deliberately provoking the dog.
Animal control rules vary in different localities, and violation of local ordinances 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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If you have been bitten or injured by a dog, report the bite to the 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. Your local animal control agency will have a record of earlier issues about the dog, which will help you prove liability.
Most homeowner’s insurance policies cover dog bites but may limit their coverage. If your damages exceed the policy limits, the dog owner will be responsible for any extra.
If you have been injured or bitten by an aggressive dog, talk to a local attorney who can advise you of your rights under North Carolina law. The attorneys at Campbell & Associates will work hard to see that you are fully compensated for your damages from a bite or encounter with an aggressive dog. Call us for a no-cost consultation at 704-769-2316.