Dog Bite Injuries in North Carolina
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 4.5 million dog bites occur in our country each year, and approximately 800,000 of those bites require medical care. North Carolina law may surprise you, and it may impact how you seek compensation for the injury.
North Carolina Dog Bite Law and the “One Bite Rule”
If you or someone you know suffers from a dog bite injury in North Carolina, your ability to possibly recover compensation can depend on the dog’s known history. North Carolina is one of 18 states that follow what is commonly known as a "One Bite Rule," also known as the "First Bite Rule" or "One Free Bite Rule."
The One Bite Rule often shields the owner of domestic animals from liability for the animal's first victim. The name is somewhat misleading in that the rule applies to any injury inflicted by the dog, whether or not it was caused by a bite. The idea is that the dog owner had no way of knowing that the dog was dangerous prior to the first instance of injury.
Why Does Intent Matter in a North Carolina Dog Bite Case
In North Carolina, a dog owner is not strictly liable for a canine-inflicted injury unless he or she "intentionally, knowingly and willfully" allowed a dog at least six months of age to run at large, at night, unaccompanied by its owner or a member of the owner's family. This is a higher standard than in many states, where simply letting a dog run around “at large” is enough to prove negligence.
It is especially critical to consult with a dog bite lawyer in North Carolina, as the law is more complicated than many other states. An attorney with experience in dog bite cases is going to know how to proceed with your claim, build your case, and deal with an insurance company.
When Is a Dog Owner Liable for an Injury?
If the “running at large” prohibition mentioned above is not violated, the dog owners might still have liability if the dog:
1) killed or inflicted "serious" injury on a person.
2) was previously declared dangerous by a governmental entity.
3) was used or kept for dog fighting.
This is a very high standard to reach. In many states, simple knowledge of a dog's dangerous tendencies is enough to warrant liability. An official declaration by a governmental entity is not necessary. Furthermore, in many states any injury resulting from a dog bite is grounds for liability, not just a "serious" one. In North Carolina, it’s more complicated.
North Carolina is a contributory negligence state. This means if the defendant’s insurance company can prove you in any way contributed to the accident by not exercising reasonable care under the circumstances, you may be completely barred from obtaining compensation for your injuries.
What Are Considered Dangerous Breeds in North Carolina?
North Carolina does not presently have a statewide list of dangerous dog breeds, though legislation was drafted back in the 2013. House Bill 956 would have classified Rottweiler, Mastiff, Chow Chow, Perro de Presa Canario, Pit Bull (including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier), and all wolf hybrids as aggressive breeds. The bill never passed.
There are, however, a few municipalities who have classified certain breeds as dangerous. Edenton, Lumberton, and Roanoke Rapids all have ordinances regulating certain breeds. The Lumberton ordinance, for example, reads as follows:
Sec. 4-37. - Restrictions and regulations.
(a) Prohibited. No person residing within the corporate limits of the town for a period of seven or more days shall keep, harbor, own or in any way possess any of the following dogs:
(1) Any unregistered potentially vicious dog. For the purposes of this section, a Potentially Vicious Dog is defined to mean:
a. The bull terrier breed of dog;
b. The Staffordshire bull terrier breed of dog;
c. The American pit bull terrier breed of dog;
d. The American Staffordshire terrier breed of dog;
e. The Rottweiler breed of dog;
f. The Chow Chow breed of dog;
g. Any dog breed or mixed breed known by a commonly accepted derivative name of the above listed breeds, including without limitation, pit bulls, pit bull dogs, and pit bull terriers.
h. Any dog that has the appearance or physical characteristics of being predominantly one of breeds of dogs listed above; or any combination thereof.
If one of these breeds of dog injured a person in a town where an ordinance forbade the breed, there could very likely be criminal charges as well as civil liability for that owner. As such ordinances can be passed without much fanfare, you may want to search to find out if there is such an ordinance in your area.
Does the Breed of the Dog Matter in a NC Dog Bite Case?
The breed can matter. North Carolina statues do not define any particular breed as dangerous, but court cases have sometimes held that a particular breed may be inherently more dangerous than others. Additionally, there are often local rules and laws that a dog’s owner must follow regardless of the breed of their dog. Think leash laws. If the owner violates these rules, and that violation leads to their dog biting someone, this may be what is called negligence per se.
That’s a fancy way of saying that, when someone violates a regulation without an excuse, they’re automatically considered to have breached their “duty of care” – which means they were negligent. This is where a personal injury attorney with experience in dog bite cases could make a difference for you.
Why You May Need an Attorney for a Dog Bite Case
There are a few key reasons you may want an experienced attorney to represent you in a dog bite case:
- Family/friend hesitation. You may feel uncomfortable pursuing compensation from a friend or family member, but you may have no other choice. Plus, the responsible party is almost certainly going to have insurance, and it’s the insurer who you’ll be seeking compensation from – not your family, friend, or neighbor. A serious dog bite can have a long-term devastating impact emotionally and financially. Even a "minor" bite can have long-term health implications, including rabies, cellulitis and canimorsus infections.
- Knowledge of complex North Carolina law and local ordinances. North Carolina is a different breed when it comes to dog bite laws. The complexity and layers of different rules make it difficult for most people to understand and may even prevent injured parties from considering a claim. That’s a mistake! Consult an attorney as soon as possible after a bite injury – don’t just accept the consequences of someone else’s actions.
- Pushy insurance companies. An insurance company is likely to push for a quick settlement that does not come close to covering the full, long-term cost of the injury. Agreeing to a settlement before these long-term costs are taken into account can leave you uncovered for future medical expenses and other costs.
- Proving fault. As with all personal injury claims, it is up to the injured party to prove that the other party acted negligently in causing the accident — such as not fencing in a dangerous dog — and that the injury was a direct result of these actions. We may use medical professionals and other experts to show the long-term impact of the attack.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation
Put our experience to work for you. Many of the personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin have more than 10 years of experience. The team also has several members who formerly worked as defense attorneys for insurance companies, so they have seen the law from both sides.
We have helped thousands1 of injured North Carolinians over our history, including those that have been bitten by dogs. Call 1-866-900-7078 right now for a free case evaluation, or simply contact us online.
The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin works on a contingency fee arrangement. That is another way of saying that the attorney's fee is based on a percentage of the gross recovery. While a case may have fees and costs associated with it, there is no hourly or flat fee charged by the firm. Simply put, if you do not recover compensation from your dog bite injury claim, there is no attorney's fee!2