North Dakota is one of a minority of U.S. states that has enacted no comprehensive dog bite statute. Instead, North Dakota dog bite law is governed by judicial precedent. A court will apply legal principles distilled from previous North Dakota dog bite cases and apply them to the unique facts of each case.
Sendelbach v. Grad and North Dakota Negligence Law
Sendelbach v. Grad is a 1976 dog bite case that serves as North Dakota’s most important dog injury precedent, because it codified the elements that a dog bite victim must prove in order to win his case:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to prevent the dog from injuring the victim. If the defendant is the owner of the dog, this duty is usually fairly easy to establish. Some fact patterns present challenges that must be overcome, however – what duty does a dog owner owe a trespasser, for example? Is a landlord responsible for allowing a tenant to keep a vicious dog that later injures another tenant? If the dog was already known to be vicious, does leashing the dog constitute “reasonable care” or should the dog have been muzzled? The answers to these questions might not always be clear-cut.
- The defendant breach his duty of care towards the defendant.
- The defendant’s breach proximately caused the victim’s injuries. Again, the facts of the case might not present a clear-cut answer. What if an unleashed dog runs out into the street after a ball, and an oncoming car swerves into a second car to avoid the dog? Can a person injured in the second car credibly claim that the defendant’s failure to leash the dog “caused” his injuries, or should the driver of the first car be blamed?
Negligence Per Se: A Legal Shortcut
Attorneys and legal scholars might debate endlessly on exactly what constitutes “negligence” given a particular set of facts. If the defendant violated a dog control ordinance, however, the violation itself is considered automatically negligent under North Dakota law, and the primary question remaining is whether or not the violation was causally related to the victim’s injury.
Some North Dakota towns, for example, completely ban pit bulls from inside city limits. A victim injured by a defendant’s pit bull within the city limits of one of those towns might assert that the mere presence of the pit bull within city limits constituted negligence per se. Would it make any difference if the defendant resided just outside city limits and the pit bull escaped its enclosure to venture into town? Another potential negligence per se claim could arise if a town enacted a law requiring all dogs to be leashed in public, and the victim was injured in public by the defendant’s unleashed dog.
The North Dakota Statute of Limitations
In North Dakota, you have six years from the date of a dog-related injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. The lawsuit doesn’t have to be resolved within six years, but the initial complaint must be filed within that time.
North Dakota’s six-year statute of limitations period is one of the longest such periods in the nation. If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, even an out-of-court settlement will become impossible, because the defendant will have no incentive to negotiate with you if you lack the ability to sue him.
For help with your dog bite claim, talk to a North Dakota dog bite lawyer.