If you're a North Carolina dog owner, or you've been injured by someone else's animal, the state's dog-bite injury liability rules and related laws may be of particular interest to you. In this article, we'll discuss:
Under laws called statutes of limitations, all civil lawsuits are subject to strict limits on how much time can pass before the case must get started. Different kinds of cases are subject to different time limits, but the price you'll pay for missing the filing window is the same: the court will almost certainly dismiss your case as "time-barred," unless a rare extension of the filing deadline is called for.
North Carolina dog-bite (or dog-caused injury) claims typically fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," so the state's statute of limitations for personal injury cases (N.C. Gen. Stat. section 1-52) applies. This statute says that any lawsuit seeking a legal remedy for "injury to the person" must be filed within three years. That means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in court against the dog owner within three years of the date of the bite or other injury.
N.C. Gen. Stat. sections 67-12 and 67-4.4 establish a dog owner's "strict liability" when an injury is caused by his or her dog.
"Strict liability" means the owner is automatically liable, and cannot escape fault for injuries by claiming lack of knowledge that the dog might bite, or that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent the injury. Fault (or the perceived absence of fault) plays no part in the dog owner's liability, in other words. In North Carolina, a dog owner can be "strictly liable" in one of two ways.
First, under section 67-12, if the owner of a dog "intentionally, knowingly, and willfully" violates the state's prohibition against dogs "running at large," and someone is injured as a result, the owner will be strictly liable for those injuries. "Running at large" means the dog is more than six months old, and is running at large in the night, unaccompanied by the owner or anyone else.
Second, under section 67-4.4, the owner of a "dangerous dog" is strictly liable for injuries caused by that animal. Under North Carolina law, a "dangerous dog" is one that:
Learn more about strict liability and other fault rules in dog-bite cases.
If a claimant is injured by a dog in North Carolina, but the "running at large" or "dangerous dog" scenarios don't fit the situation (making "strict liability" inapplicable), the claimant can still hold the dog owner liable if the owner's negligence results in a dog bite or other injury.
So, for example, if a certain dog had a vicious propensity and the animal's owner knew (or should have known) that the dog posed a danger to others, but the owner failed to take even the most basic precautions to prevent the animal from injuring someone (i.e. using a leash, warning people not to try to pet the animal) the owner can be held liable for the claimant's injuries and related losses (damages), including compensation for medical bills, "pain and suffering," and other effects of the incident and resulting injuries. Learn more about proving negligence in a personal injury case.
Though the applicability of a claimed defense will depend on the specific circumstances in which the bite or other injury occurred, typically if the injured person provoked the dog, the animal's owner might not be liable for the claimant's damages. And if the claimant was trespassing on the animal owner's property, the owner may also avoid liability for any losses resulting from a bite or other animal-caused injury.
If you find yourself involved in a dog-bite claim in North Carolina—either as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.