North Carolina Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Can the dog owner be sued? North Carolina laws on personal injury claims arising out of a dog bite or dog attack.

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.

Deadlines for Filing a North Carolina Dog Bite Lawsuit

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.

North Carolina's Dog Bite Laws

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:

  • the dog was a "dangerous dog" as defined by North Carolina law,
  • the dog injured the person or damaged the person's property.

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:

  • has killed or severely injured a person without being provoked,
  • is owned, harbored, or trained for the purposes of dog fighting, or
  • has been determined to be a "potentially dangerous dog" by the local animal control board.

"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.

"Strict Liability" for Dog Bites in North Carolina

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.

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability

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:

  • the injured person was trespassing or attempting to commit a crime or other wrong
  • the injured person "tormented, abused, or assaulted" the dog, or
  • the dog was a law enforcement dog, hunting dog, or herding dog carrying out its duties.

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.)

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