In this article, we'll look at some key points of North Carolina dog bite law, starting with the deadline (known as a "statute of limitations") for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a North Carolina civil court. Then, we'll examine North Carolina's dog bite statutes and it status as a "strict liability" state, as well as possible defenses a dog's owner might raise in court if confronted with a dog bite injury claim.
North Carolina has a law, known as the "statute of limitations," that sets a deadline on the filing of personal injury lawsuits, which include dog bite cases. If you're injured by a dog bite in North Carolina, you have three years to file a lawsuit in court. The three years typically starts running on the date of the dog bite.
A North Carolina court will likely throw your case out without hearing it if you try filing it after the three-year window has closed. This makes it crucial to know when the three-year statute of limitations expires in your case and to file your claim before then.
In North Carolina, dog bites are covered by several separate but related statutes, which appear in Section 67 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Under these laws, a person who was bitten by a dog can show that the dog's owner is liable for the bite if the injured person shows:
This law applies whether or not the injury was inflicted by a dog bite. For instance, if you're walking on the sidewalk when your neighbor's dog jumps on you and knocks you down, causing injury, you may still seek compensation under this law. In order for the law to apply, however, the dog must be considered a "dangerous dog." North Carolina law defines a "dangerous dog" as a dog that:
"Potentially dangerous dogs" are typically dogs that have bitten someone, have attacked or killed another animal, or that have acted aggressively or threateningly when approached by people.
Most states handle dog bite cases in one of two ways: through "strict liability" or "negligence." Negligence-based dog bite laws require the injured person to prove the owner failed to act with reasonable care. Strict liability-based laws do not. North Carolina's civil dog bite law states that it is a "strict liability" law, meaning one that applies whether or not the owner used reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring others. The owner of a dog that bites or injures someone in North Carolina cannot escape responsibility by claiming that he or she had no idea the dog would cause injuries. North Carolina law also imposes criminal penalties on owners who know they have dangerous dogs, yet fail to take certain measures to protect others from the dog. These penalties can apply when a dog owner leaves a dog unattended and unconfined, fails to leash and muzzle a dog when taking it off the property, and fails to provide written notice that the dog is dangerous when someone who agrees to buy or adopt the dog.
A dog owner in North Carolina has several defenses to a claim that his or her dog injured someone else. If any of these conditions apply to the injury the dog caused, the owner may not be liable for the injury under North Carolina law:
In order for trespassing to be used as a defense against a dog injury claim, the injured person must be shown to be "willfully" trespassing at the time of the injury. If the person was trespassing accidentally -- for instance, if he was lost -- then the owner may still be liable for any injuries caused by the dog. (Read more about homeowner liability for trespasser injuries.)