North Carolina’s complex structure of dog bite laws at the state, city and county level forms one of the most complex systems in the U.S. North Carolina, unfortunately, is also among the least victim-friendly states in the U.S. when it comes to litigating dog bite claims. Nevertheless, a dog bite victims often win personal injury lawsuits in North Carolina.
North Carolina’s Dog Bite Statutes
Instead of enacting a single dog bite statute as most other states have, North Carolina has enacted several statutes that, taken together, define statutory liability under North Carolina dog bite law:
- North Carolina law defines a “dangerous dog” as a dog that has either (i) caused serious injury or death to a human being or (ii) has been designated a “dangerous dog” by local animal control authorities due to aggressive behaviors such as biting people, killing animals, and threatening people while off its owner’s property (among other aggressive acts).
- The owner of a “dangerous dog” is strictly liable (liable without fault) for any damage done by the dog to people, property or other animals.
- A dog owner is strictly liable for any damage done by his dog if it is more than six months old and roaming at large unaccompanied by a human, even if it never harmed anyone before it harmed the victim.
Taken together, these statutes impose narrow conditions on the ability of a dog bite victim to hold a dog owner liable without proof of the owner’s negligence. Nevertheless, a dog bite victim unable to establish his claim under the dog bite statutes might win his case anyway, by asserting his claim under common law negligence principles.
Common Law Negligence
Common law negligence is defined by North Carolina case law rather than statutory law. To win a common law negligence claim in North Carolina, a dog bite victim must show that the dog owner failed to exercise “ordinary care” in his handling of the dog, thereby leading to the victim’s injury. “Ordinary care” is an ambiguous term that is often difficult to define in the context of a particular case.
Does the owner of a pit bull with no history of aggression, for example, fail to exercise ordinary care if he allows children to play with his dog? North Carolina case law suggests that the answer to this question might be “yes”. The decision is much more clear-cut, however, when a dog owner violates an animal control law (such as keeping a Rottweiler within county limits) in a manner that caused the attack to occur. Violation of a relevant statute is considered negligence automatically (“negligence per see” in legal terminology).
The “One Free Bite Rule”
The so-called “one free bite rule” is a common law concept that allows a dog bite victim to recover damages from a dog owner without showing any fault on the part of the owner except that he knew (or should have known) that the dog had a history of aggression and yet continued to keep the dog until the day that it attacked the victim. ”Aggression” in this context is not limited to biting – menacing behavior is sometimes enough to satisfy the “one bite rule” and hold the dog owner liable.
More questions? Talk to a North Carolina dog bite lawyer.