Every year in the United States, close to five million people are bitten by dogs. Approximately one-fifth of those bites needed medical attention.
Sadly, 39 people died from dog bites in 2017. Comparing dog bite statistics per state, North Carolina residents experience dog bites disproportionately to their share of the country’s population.
Is the owner of a dog liable if you are bitten? Oftentimes, the answer is yes. North Carolina, like many states, has a “one bite rule” for dangerous pets.
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A dog owner in North Carolina might be held responsible for bites under a strict liability law. Strict liability means that, under certain circumstances, a dog owner can be held liable for damages with no proof of negligence. The owner can be held responsible when the dog has already been classified as a dangerous dog, and later injures a person or causes damage to property.
A “dangerous dog” is defined as one that has already killed or seriously harmed 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 “one bite” rule addresses the circumstances under which a dog may be categorized as “potentially dangerous.” A dog is designated as potentially dangerous after the local animal control authority has received a report that the dog has bitten a person, killed an animal, or acted in a threatening way toward a person. Aggressive actions might include snapping and showing teeth, jumping on people, lunging at someone, or chasing people. Any form of aggressive behavior, then, qualifies as a “one bite.”
If the dog has been identified as a dangerous animal, the owner will be responsible for any injuries it causes. The owner will be responsible for injuries caused by bites and for other injuries. If someone is being chased by the dog and falls, for example, the owner will be liable for injuries sustained in the fall. The owner will also be liable for damages to property, which might include vet bills for an injured pet.
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North Carolina law also makes an owner liable for damages caused by a dog over six months old, if it is running loose at night.
There are some conditions under which an owner can avoid strict liability. 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 attacking or tormenting the dog. In order for the trespassing exception to apply, the injured person must be aware that he is trespassing on the owner’s property. A child who is lost and goes onto the property by mistake, for example, is not considered a trespasser.
Depending on where in North Carolina you live, certain “dangerous breeds” like pit bulls, may be regulated or even banned.
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After any dog bite or attack, report the incident to your local animal control authority. If the dog has already been reported for aggressive behavior, the owner may be required to take steps to protect his neighbors, like having a muzzle on the dog when it is outside. The animal control board will have a record of any previous reports on the dog, and if the dog has been reported in the past, the strict liability law can be used to hold the owner responsible for your injury.
The dog owner’s insurance policy may cover dog bites, but will probably place a cap on damages. In a lawsuit against the owner of the dog, the owner may be responsible for any damages over the limit of the policy.
If you have been hurt or bitten by an aggressive dog, talk to a local lawyer who can advise you of your rights under North Carolina law. The legal team at Campbell & Associates has the experience to help you get compensation after you have been injured by a dog. Our consultations are always free. Call today at 704-769-2316 to speak with one of our dog bite experts.