Dog bites are an all too common problem, with more than five million reported yearly.
One-fifth of reported bites need medical treatment. In 2017, 39 people died from dog bites.
Dog bites are actually more prevalent in North Carolina than in many more heavily populated states.
Are you able to file a claim against a dog owner if you or a family member is bitten?
Fortunately, there is some recourse available owner.
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 been identified to be a “dangerous animal”.
- The dog causes injury to a person or damages property.
A “dangerous animal” is defined as an animal 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 recognized by local animal control authorities as “potentially dangerous.”
The “one bite rule” illustrates how a dog can wind up with the “potentially dangerous” classification. 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 habits that will also lead to being classified as “potentially dangerous.” A dog that chases or leaps at people, snarls or growls, or regularly jumps on people may be considered aggressive.
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An owner will be responsible 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. If the dangerous animal damages property, the owner is also accountable.
Even when 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.
There are some exceptions to the strict liability law. The owner can escape liability if he proves that the injured person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, trying to commit a crime, or abusing or taunting 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, for example, would not be a willful trespasser.
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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Report any bites or aggressive actions 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.
A claim against a dog owner for injuries will generally be handled by his homeowner’s insurance policy. You may sue the dog’s owner for the full amount of your damages, 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 attorney who will advise you of your rights under North Carolina law. The attorneys at Campbell & Associates will strive to see that you are fully compensated for your damages from a bite or encounter with an aggressive dog. Call us today at 704-769-2316 to set up a free consultation with one of our dog bite experts.