Dog Bites in North Carolina
If you are living in Charlotte, North Carolina, chances are either you or your neighbor own a dog. We share our parks, our bars, and our living spaces with these lovable canines; we practically involve them in every aspect of our lives. However, despite their loyalty and constant will to put a smile on all our faces, the reality is, there is still the possibility of a dog attack. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. Further, nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog require medical attention. The injury rate was higher for children aged between 5 and 9 years. Therefore, as the number of dogs in the Charlotte area continue to grow, the likelihood of a dog bite also increases.
The truth is, man’s best friend is capable of inflicting pain, injury, and even risk of illness. In the event the dog bite becomes infected, the victim is at risk of being exposed to rabies, capnocytophaga bacteria, pasteurella, MRSA, and tetanus. In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one is bitten by a dog, contact the knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC to assist you in building a claim, and help you to maximize any potential monetary compensation. The state and local laws governing dog bites in North Carolina can be quite complex, and they only entitle victims to recovery under specific circumstances. Despite the legal intricacies surrounding dog bite laws, no dog bite victim should be burdened with the medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering that may result.
There are two forms of strict liability for the owner of a dog that causes injury to another. The first is common law strict liability. Under common law strict liability, the plaintiff must prove “(1) that the animal was dangerous, vicious, mischievous, or ferocious, or one termed in law as possessing a vicious propensity; and (2) that the owner or keeper knew or should have known of the animal's vicious propensity, character, and habits.” Swain v. Tillett, 269 N.C. 46, 51, 152 S.E.2d 297, 301 (1967); “The gravamen of the cause of action in this event is not negligence, but rather the wrongful keeping of the animal with knowledge of its viciousness; and thus both viciousness and scienter are indispensable elements to be averred and proved.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). In essence, this means the Plaintiff must prove the Defendant knew or should have known of the dangerous propensities of the dog and continued to keep the dog. As a result, the owner will be responsible in civil damages for any injuries the dog inflicted upon a person, property, or another animal.
The second form of strict liability is the Dangerous Dog Statute N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.4. “The owner of a dangerous dog shall be strictly liable in civil damages for any injuries or property damage the dog inflicts upon a person, his property, or another animal.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.4 (emphasis added).
For the majority of cases, the Plaintiff needs to focus on two definitions within the statute. The first is the statutory definition of “dangerous dog.”
(1) "Dangerous dog" means
a. A dog that:
1. Without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person; or
2. Is determined by the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control to be potentially dangerous because the dog has engaged in one or more of the [following] behaviors[:] . . .
a. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or
b. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner's real property; or
c. Approached a person when not on the owner's property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.
The second definition of importance is “Severe Injury.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1(a)(1),(2). “Severe injury” is in turn defined as “any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1(a)(5).
As such, if the Plaintiff is able to show the a dog bit him/her, without provocation, and the bite resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization they can move forward under the Dangerous Dog Statute.
Additionally, strict liability is imposed when the owner intentionally, knowingly, and willfully allows a dog at least six months old to run at large, in the nighttime, unaccompanied by the owner, or by some member of the owner’s family, or some other person by the owner’s permission. N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-12.
Of key importance to the Statute is the Plaintiff does not need to prove the defendant was negligent, only that the statutory violation occurred. Also, a Defendant’s affirmative defense of contributory negligence is not a valid defense to a strict liability claim. “Contributory negligence is not a defense in a strict liability action.” Wilson Bros. v. Mobil Oil, 63 N.C. App. 334, 342 305 S.E.2d 40, 45 (1983).
Many states, including North Carolina, have moved away from the scienter requirement of common law strict liability through the adoption of dangerous dog statutes. Further, many municipal codes deal with animal attacks and the liability of the owners.
The facts and circumstances surrounding a dog bite case can make the matter complex; however, given the fact-sensitive nature of these claims, it is important for victims to (1) seek medical attention, (2) report the incident to animal control authorities, (3) gather information about the name, address, or the like, of the dog owner, (4) gather witnesses to the incident, and (5) photographs before and after treatment. With this information, the skilled lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC will work zealously to aid the victim in recovering damages such as, but not limited to, past and future medical bills, lost wages, permanent disability, and pain and suffering.
It is important to note, the statute of limitation, or deadline, for dog bite incidents in North Carolina is three (3) years. Therefore, if you are injured by a dog and seek recovery for damages, your claim must be filed within three (3) years from the date of the incident, or when injury was discovered.
Ultimately, no one wants to imagine that our friendly four-leg companions can cause harm to anyone or anything, but the reality is, dog attacks do happen. In the unfortunate event that an attack occurs, the experienced attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC will stand by your side and discuss the compensation you may be entitled to. Please contact us at (704) 714-1450 to speak with an attorney. We will discuss your rights and options. There is no fee for an initial consultation.
To read the full text of the North Carolina dog bite law, see the link below.