Dog Bite Law in North Carolina; Role of Lawyer in Dog Bite claims
John Kirby has represented numerous parties in dog bite claims in North Carolina. He has represented the dog owner, as well as the dog bite victim. This page addresses dog bite law in North Carolina.
Dog bite cases are not uncommon in North Carolina. Attorneys often represent victims of dog attacks and the dog owners in these disputes. One study found that there are nearly five million dog bites annually in the USA. Many of the victims are children, and about half of them were bitten in the face.
In North Carolina, a person bitten by a dog is entitled to compensation if the dog possessed a vicious propensity and that its owner knew or should have known of this propensity. The dog owner (or other person in control of the dog) can also be liable if he is negligent in handling the dog. The dog’s owner is liable if, based on the dog’s past conduct or general propensities, the dog, if not restrained, is likely to bite or attack someone. Case law also states that, “The type, size, nature, and habits of the animal, known to the owner, are all circumstances to be taken into account in determining whether the owner was negligent.”
The law of dog bites in North Carolina is evolving. In Stephens v. Covington, a case from Febr Rottweiler attacked an eight year old child. The child sued the dog’s owner, as well as the landlord (property owner) who rented the property to the dog owner. The court ruled that there was not sufficient evidence that the landlord knew that the dog was dangerous, and the case against the landlord was dismissed.
Below are some verdicts and decisions in North Carolina involving dog bites. It should be noted, however, that many cases are dismissed by the courts because the plaintiff does not have sufficient proof of the dog’s dangerous propensities or of the owner’s negligence.
- In 1996, in Wake County, a contractor went to property to provide the owner with an estimate for demolishing buildings. The property had been rented to persons living on the property, who owned two Rottweilers, who were allowed to run free. They had attacked nearby neighbors in the past. The plaintiff (contractor) went to the rear of the house and encountered the dogs, who approached him and threatened him. One Rottweiler lunged at him and he fell down, breaking his arm and injuring his back. A jury awarded him $330,000. The verdict was affirmed on appeal. The landowner was held liable, notwithstanding that he did not own the dogs, on the theory that he was negligent in failing to require the tenant to restrain the dogs, and in failing to warn the plaintiff of the dogs. The court held that the landowner (through its management company) was on notice of the dogs’ prior conduct.
- In 2006, a jury in Guilford County awarded $4,500 to a woman bitten in the face (without scarring) by a dog (Labrador). The dog owner knew that the dog had bitten others before. The victim claimed panic attacks.
- In 2005, a jury in Charlotte awarded $64,500 to a man who sustained a fractured arm during a dog attack. The dog (Rottweiler, “Notorious”) knocked him to the ground. The dog was running loose.
- In a case tried in Lincoln County in 1999, a jury awarded the plaintiff $250,000 after a Rottweiler (“Rowdy”) bit off his ear, resulting in three hospital stays. The plaintiff was performing work at the defendant’s property, and the dog jumped on him. An expert testified that the Rottweiler breed was aggressive. The jury found that the dog-owner was negligent in failing to secure the dog on the owner’s property. The jury awarded the worker’s wife $7,500 in loss of consortium. The jury also rejected an argument that the worker was contributorily negligent.
- In a case decided by the Court of Appeals, the dog had twice tried to bite people. The dog (Rocky, a German Shepherd) was still allowed to run free. He then bit the plaintiff on the plaintiff’s land. The court held that in view of the two prior incidents, which were known to the dog owner, the plaintiff was allowed to present a claim for punitive damages to the jury.
- In a case from Alamance County, a dog (“Frisky”) jumped on a 72-year-old womanand knocked her down, and proceeded to lick her face. She was injured and a jury awarded her $20,000. The Court of Appeals reversed the verdict because the plaintiff failed to prove the dog’s general habits, character or propensities, or any past similar conduct by the dog.
There are other “twists” on this basic law. If the plaintiff was negligent (or “contributorily negligent”) in failing to protect himself from injury, or in putting himself in a dangerous position, then he cannot recover. Persons other than the owner of the dog can be liable, if they had some degree of control over the dog (e.g. a landlord). Further, some municipalities in North Carolina have ordinances requiring that dogs, e.g., be kept on a leash; a violation of these rules can also support a claim against the dog owner.
A person bitten by a dog should of course seek medical attention for the wound, and should administer first aid, including cleansing the wound to minimize the possibility of infection. In considering a potential claim, they and their lawyer should conduct an investigation to determine whether the dog had a dangerous propensity, or a history of biting people. They should also examine the local ordinances, if any. The prosecution of such a case might also require the use of an expert witness.
A lawyer can often help the victim of a dog bite to determine if there is a viable claim against the owner of the dog. The lawyer can also help to assemble the damages recoverable in such a case. These claims are often settled with the homeowners (or renters) insurance company for the dog owner, and the lawyer can assist with the negotiations with the insurance company.
John Kirby has represented people in lawsuits arising from bites by dogs (e.g. German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd).