Dog bites and injuries caused by animals tend to be distinct from other personal injuries under state tort laws. In fact, most states have a specific statute — often called a dog bite law — that assigns liability in such cases. In most jurisdictions, these laws make it difficult for owners to escape liability for these types of injuries, some even going as far as imposing strict liability under almost all circumstances. In North Carolina, however, the particular nature of our dog bite law can present some challenges for injured plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Section 67-12 of the North Carolina General Statues imposes strict liability for any injury inflicted by a dog so long as all the following circumstances exist:
- The dog is at least six months old.
- The dog is running at large at nighttime.
- The dog is unaccompanied by the owner or his or her agent.
Because this law only imposes strict liability under a very narrow set of circumstances, in all other dog bite and animal injury cases, typical rules of negligence apply. The owner is liable if he or she failed to act in a reasonable manner and but for that failure the injury would not have occurred. As such, this statute is substantially more favorable to dog owners than those of most other jurisdictions in the United States and dog bite victims and their attorneys must be prepared to meet the challenge.
Dog bite victims should take note of the circumstances surrounding the attack, any statements made by the owner or responsible person as well as any potential witnesses who were also present. This information can ultimately be used to help establish the owner’s liability.