Does Your Dog Bite?

Does Your Dog Bite?


MP900431018“Every dog gets one bite,” is
a bit of homey legal wisdom that is often repeated by laypersons and even
lawyers, but it is not entirely true in the state of North Carolina. The first
way a person can recover from a dog bite or attack is under a negligence
theory. Legally, a dog attack on someone at a person’s house is analyzed the
same way a slip and fall case would be. The owners of the dog would have to
have some knowledge that the dog was vicious or mean and they should have
foreseen that the dog could injure somebody. If the dog had previously bitten
or attacked someone that would be evidence that the owners knew or should have
known about the dog. However, an actual bite would not be required. Other
behavior from the dog such as an attack prevented by a fence or leash, or even
excessive barking or growling could be evidence that the owners should have
known the dog could attack and hurt someone. Note that not only the owner of
the dog could be held liable for injury from a dog bite under a negligence
claim, but a landlord or owner of the house could also be held at fault if they had knowledge of the
viciousness of the dog, making this defense unavailable. Any claim of negligence in North Carolina allows the defendants
to use the defense of contributory negligence. A person has some responsibility
for his own safety and if he fails to do so, to the level of a reasonable and
prudent person, he is contributorily negligent and cannot win his case. If the
injured person knew about the vicious propensities of a dog and was around the
dog anyway; or if the injured party was teasing the dog; could be evidence of
contributory negligence.

The second way to recover on
a dog bite is by statute. The North Carolina statutes provide that a person who
owns a “dangerous dog” is responsible for any injuries it causes, regardless of
whether or not he was negligent. The statute provides that a “dangerous dog” is
one that has already killed or seriously injured a person; a dog kept or
trained for dog fighting; or is determined by a county or city to a
“potentially dangerous dog.” A “potentially dangerous dog” is determined after
a hearing by a city or county authority and can be appealed to a superior court
judge. To find the dog to be a “potentially dangerous dog” the authority must either
find that the dog has bitten someone that caused broken bones, disfiguring
cuts, or required cosmetic surgery or a trip to the hospital; or that the dog
killed or caused severe injury to another animal while not on the owner’s
property (and was not involved in hunting, herding or predator control); or
approached a person in a vicious or terrorizing manner when not on the owners
property. If a dog is a “dangerous dog” or has been determined by a city or
county to be “potentially dangerous” then the owner is responsible for any
damage to people, other dogs or animals or property that the dog causes. He
also would be criminally guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Even if the owner
kept the dog fenced up and muzzled, but through no negligence he escaped and
caused damage, the owner would still be responsible. The only defenses would be
if the injured person was trespassing on the property or was tormenting or
abusing the dog. The statues also do not apply to police dogs “on duty” or dogs
used in a lawful hunt.      

Finally, note that local
cities and counties are permitted to enact additional ordinances regarding dogs
and dangerous dogs that are more restrictive than the state laws. So if you
have a question, be sure to check with your local laws.

–Bradley A. Coxe
is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who
specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations,
Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. 
Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.