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Dog Bites In North Carolina

What happens if you are bitten by a dog in North Carolina? Is the dog owner liable? What damages can you recover? The answer to those questions depends on a number of factors including whether the dog has previously bitten someone. 

Dog bites cases fall under the personal injury arena. North Carolina, along with approximately 18 other states, is a “one-bite rule” state. Under the one-bite rule, the person injured by the dog may not be able to bring a personal injury claim against the dog owner if the dog has not previously bitten or attacked someone. If however, the dog has previously bitten or attacked someone, in most cases, the dog owner will be liable for any future bites. 

Does the one-bite rule mean that anyone who was bitten by a dog who has not previously bitten anyone, or shown previous signs of aggression, cannot recover damages? No. A Charlotte, North Carolina attorney can help you understand and apply the law to the specific facts surrounding the bite and exceptions to the law. 

Strict Liability. In some states, the injured party in a dog bite case would have to prove that the owner knew, or should have known, that the dog was dangerous but failed to take reasonable precautions to protect others, or their property, from injury or damage. For example, if an owner knew that a dog did not like children (but had not previously bitten anyone) and failed to keep his/her dog on a leash while at a park full of children then the owner could be found negligent.

However, North Carolina is a “strict liability” state when it comes to dog bite cases. N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-4.4 makes dog owners “strictly liable” for injuries to a person or property caused by the owner’s dog. The person injured by the dog bite will not have to prove that the owner failed to take reasonable precautions to protect others, rather the dog owner will be held liable despite his/her actions or intent when the dog bite occurred. 

Exception to the One-Bite Rule. 

Dogs “running at large” at night are an exception to the one-bite rule. North Carolina law makes it illegal for dog owners to allow dogs over the age of 6 months to “run at large in the nighttime” without the owner, or without someone designated by the owner, being present. N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-12. Therefore, under the strict liability theory, the owner will be held strictly liable for personal or property injuries that resulted if the dog was 1) older than six months, and 2) out at night without the owner, or another adult who had permission to supervise the dog.

Potentially Dangerous. Dog owners can be held strictly liable for injuries resulting from their dog’s bite if the dog has previously bitten someone or is considered to be “potentially dangerous.” N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-4.1. Dogs are considered to be dangerous, or potentially dangerous, if they: 

  • have been trained to fight
  • previously killed or severely injured someone
  • previously terrorized or harassed someone who was not on their property, for example, by following someone while growling or acting aggressively
  • injured or killed a domestic animal (cat, dog, etc.)
  • bit someone that resulted in broken bones or disfigurement 

Owners have additional obligations if their dog is considered dangerous including:

  • confining the dog, either inside or outside. If outside, the dog must be confined by an enclosed structure
  • keeping the dog on a leash, muzzled or otherwise restrained whenever the dog leaves the owner’s property 

Defenses. Once again, the facts of any situation are key in a personal injury case. A dog bite owner might be able to avoid liability if he/she could show that the dog was provoked by the injured party, if the injured party was trespassing on the dog owner’s property or if the dog was acting in an official capacity, like a K-9 conducting police business. 

Damages. If you have been injured by a dog bite, you may be able to recover for:

  • Medical bills. This includes the cost of an ambulance ride, hospital and doctors office visits, prescriptions, and rehabilitation. It can also include future medical costs if applicable. For example, if you need follow-up surgeries. 
  • Lost income for time off work for treatment and healing
  • Pain and suffering. This includes emotional distress. 
  • Loss of consortium

Statute of Limitations. As with all claims, there is a certain period of time (called the statute of limitations) in which a claim must be brought if you are bitten by a dog. North Carolina’s dog bite statute does not have a specific provision containing a deadline for bringing a claim so since this would be a personal injury case, North Carolina’s personal injury statute would apply. Personal injury claims generally must be filed with three years of the date of injury, the dog bite in this case. These limitations are very fact specific and do not hold true for every case, anyone with a potential personal injury case should consult with an attorney regarding their specific time limits. 

Local Ordinances

Many cities and municipalities have laws that apply to pet owners. It is important to know if your city has any laws about dogs. Cities like Charlotte, North Carolina have leash laws in place. In Charlotte, an owner is required to keep a dog on a leash when walking the dog or taking it to a public park. Dogs are also required to be on a leash, or within a regular or electronic fence, in their own yard unless the dog is accompanied by an adult and the dog is trained to respond to commands. Failure to follow city ordinances could result in fines and would be another factor that would be examined when determining liability and damages if a dog bites and injures someone. 

Our Charlotte, North Carolina Attorneys Can Help

The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury attorneys who can help you understand your rights, whether or not you have compensable damages and if you should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation. 

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