It’s Business, And It’s Personal

How Dog Bite cases work in North Carolina

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Personal Injury |

A CDC report estimates that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Among these bites, roughly 800,000 are severe enough to warrant hospitalization. Dog attacks frequently result in liability disputes much more complex than in run-of-the-mill traffic accident cases. Even in the most obvious cases, the laws differ from state to state on who, if anyone, is responsible for a dog attack. To navigate these issues in Fayetteville and Cumberland County, you need dedicated dog bite attorneys willing to investigate and, if necessary, file suit. The Fayetteville law firm of Britton Law has been successfully litigating these claims for the Cumberland County community for nearly 20 years.

Determining Liability

Proving liability is the first step in any dog bite personal injury claim.  If a North Carolina dog bite victim can show the following two elements, he or she can recover for their bodily injury damages:

  1. “That the animal was dangerous, vicious, mischievous, or ferocious, or one termed in law as possessing a vicious propensity.”
  2. “The owner or keeper knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensity, character, and habits.”

In short, if the victim can prove that the animal was predisposed to dangerous behavior and that the owner knew of this predisposition, then he or she can recover. This knowledge is sometimes derived from an animal’s past behavior, such as a prior attack.

Some online sources mistakenly refer to North Carolina as a “one-bite” state. That phrase is typically used to mean that a victim cannot recover damages from a dog bite unless the dog has previously attacked someone. This is not necessarily the case. The dog’s “dangerous propensity” can be established from prior conduct, even if the dog did not bite. As an example, if a dog attempts to bite someone, but is prevented from doing so, this may still be enough to place the owner on notice of their dangerous propensities. Likewise, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1(a)(1)(a)(2) makes an owner strictly liable for his or her dog if it has been determined by a county board or municipal authority to be potentially dangerous. The potentially dangerous designation can be rendered because the dog has bitten someone, bitten a domestic animal when not on the owner’s property, or even because the dog has approached a person when not on its owner’s property in a “terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.”

In many cases, even if there is not a prior bite history, there may be other liable theories. For instance, many municipalities and counties (including Cumberland) have leash law rules. These codes frequently require that dogs are leashed at all times on public property. A violation of a leash law ordinance, for instance allowing an animal to roam free in an apartment complex or neighborhood, can result in a negligence per se claim. In other words, the owner of the dog violating the local ordinance that was designed to promote public safety can lead to a negligence claim, even if there is no evidence the dog previously bit anyone. The Cumberland County Code of Ordinances specifically indicates that a dog or cat must not be allowed to roam at large and defines running at large to mean that a dog is not under the actual physical leash control or hand restraint of its owner or keeper.

Compensation for Dog Bite Victims

There are different types of “damages” available to compensate dog bite victims in North Carolina. These includes:

  • Medical expenses –  Qualified bills may include ambulance service, hospital stays, surgeries, cosmetic procedures, rabies shots, etc.
  • Pain and Suffering – Aside from the attack, recovery can be an excruciating process. Many victims not only experience physical pain but also emotional suffering. Plenty of our clients over the years have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of a dog bite.
  • Lost Wages – Hospital visits, surgeries, and painful recovery can prevent a victim from working. For that reason, victims can pursue lost wages in their settlements.
  • Property Damages – This category may include torn clothing or damage to something the victim had in their hands during the attack.
  • Permanent Injury / Scarring / Disfigurement – Victims in severe dog bite attacks are frequently left with debilitating injuries or, at minimum, unsightly scars.
  • Punitive Damages – Damages awarded in cases where the owner acted with extreme disregard for others or knowingly allowed the attack.

Fayetteville Dog Bite Attorneys

Contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Britton Law if you have been bitten by a dog in the greater Fayetteville area. We serve clients across the state, including Cumberland, Hoke, Harnett, Sampson, and Robeson counties. Call us at 910-401-3356 or send us a confidential message through our contact page.