North Dakota is among the handful of U.S. states that don't have a specific dog bite statute on the books. Instead, the legal rules for North Dakota dog bite cases have been shaped largely by state court decisions that have been handed down over the years. In this article, we'll look at some of these rules. We'll also talk about the deadlines for filing a dog bite injury lawsuit in North Dakota and the defenses available to dog owners who are facing a lawsuit.
North Dakota's statute of limitations for personal injury claims also limits the amount of time an injured person has to file a lawsuit in a state court after a dog bite injury. In a dog bite case, an injured person has six years, usually starting on the date the injury occurs, to bring his or her case to court. Cases that are filed after this six-year deadline has passed are usually thrown out without any hearing.
North Dakota doesn't have a specific statute that creates civil liability for dog bite claims. Instead, the North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled, in a case called Sendelbach v. Grad, 246 N.W.2d 496 (N.D. 1976), that the standard negligence law in North Dakota applies to dog bites and other injuries inflicted by dogs. In other words, to win damages from a dog owner in North Dakota, an injured person must prove that:
Usually, the duty imposed is one of "reasonable care" to restrain, train, or control the dog so that it does not bite or inflict other injuries. However, if a specific statute imposes a duty, a negligence case can be based on the owner's failure to obey the statute. For instance, suppose that a person is injured on a city sidewalk when a dog leaps onto the person and knocks her down, injuring her. The city has an ordinance requiring all dogs to be on leashes, but the owner did not put the dog on a leash. The owner's failure to follow the leash ordinance may be used as the basis for a negligence claim by the injured person.
The defenses a dog owner might raise in a North Dakota dog bite case are similar to the defenses that apply to most negligence claims. A commonly-used defense is an argument based on comparative negligence.
Comparative negligence reduces or eliminates a dog owner's liability if the injured person was partly or totally responsible for his or her own injures. For instance, suppose that a boy is provoking his neighbor's dog by throwing clods of dirt at the dog. The dog eventually becomes angry, leaps the fence between its yard and the neighbor's yard, and bites the boy. In court, the jury decides that the boy is 40 percent at fault for his injuries and the owner is 60 percent at fault. Under North Dakota's modified comparative fault rule, the boy can recover 60 percent of the total damages, which is the total amount reduced by the 40 percent of fault assigned to him. As long as his fault was less than 50 percent, he is allowed to recover some damages. However, had the boy been found to be 50 percent or more at fault, he would not have been allowed to collect any damages at all from the dog's owner.
A second defense that may apply in some dog bite injury cases is that of limited liability for trespasser injuries. If a person is trespassing -- is on private property without the owner's permission -- he or she may not be able to recover compensation if a dog injures the person during the trespass. This rule does not apply in cases where the injured person was on his or her own property or was on public property, however.