Holding Owners of Dangerous Dogs Liable After Dog Bite Attack and Available Damages
North Carolina victims of dog bite attacks may be compensated through an injury claim filed by their personal injury lawyer against the dog owner’s property insurance policy. Dog bite injury is governed by Chapter 67 of the N.C. General Statutes. The first few sections of this Chapter are generally referred to as the “dog bite laws.” They outline:
- Direct owner negligence and negligence “per se” (meaning implied or assumed).
- Scienter (Latin for “with knowledge”): This is when the owner knows the dog has already bitten or will bite. It is known as the “one bite rule.”
- Intentional owner actions, such as using the dog as a weapon to assault another person.
North Carolina’s dog bite statutes apply to dogs that
- Are over six months old and running loose at night
- Have previously killed or injured people or other pets
- Have been declared legally “dangerous”
In addition to Chapter 67 of the General Statutes, many towns and cities have enacted local ordinances that hold a dog owner accountable for injuries caused by his or her dog. If a dog attack does not fall within a scenario covered by Chapter 67 of the General Statutes, the plaintiff’s lawyer can often use a local/county ordinance to hold a dog owner liable after an attack.
Injured victims of dog attacks can recover the following damages as compensation for their injuries (“compensatory damages”):
- Medical bills (including psychological treatments if suffering, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Physical pain and mental suffering, past and future
Dog bite claims may be settled without filing a lawsuit after the plaintiff’s lawyer has thoroughly investigated the claim and has negotiated with the dog owner’s insurance company. Injured victims of dog attacks can also recover punitive damages if aggravating circumstances are present. For instance, if the dog is a dangerous breed and has a history of violent behavior, then in addition to the compensatory damages above, a jury could also award punitive damages against the defendant to (1) punish the defendant and (2) deter others in the community from harboring dogs known to be dangerous. The likelihood of punitive damages being awarded at trial can be used by the plaintiff’s lawyer to negotiate a higher settlement offer before a lawsuit is filed.
Dog Owner Negligence and the Cornerstone of Any Successful Injury Claim
All successful civil injury cases are based on the “four elements of negligence.” They are:
- Defendant’s legal duty: We all have a duty (responsibility) to take “reasonable care” in protecting others from being hurt.
- Breach of that duty: The act (or manner) in which we fail to keep others safe.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach of his or her duty of reasonable care causes injury to the plaintiff.
- Damages: As a result of his or her injuries, the plaintiff suffers various losses (for example, medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, permanent injuries, physical pain, and mental suffering).
The clearer this sequence of evidence is developed by you and your personal injury lawyer, the stronger your dog bite lawsuit against the animal’s owner.
Part of North Carolina’s dog bite statute determines where strict liability applies against the dog’s owner. Strict liability in civil law means the injured bite victim does not need to prove negligence by a dog’s owner. G.S. § 67-4.4. So if the victim suffers injuries from the bite of a “dangerous dog” (G.S. § 67-4.1), the animal’s owner must either compensate the injured person if there’s a trial or negotiate a settlement to avoid a trial.
A “dangerous dog” is viewed in G.S. § 67-4.1 as one that has:
- Previously killed or severely injured a person without provocation;
- Is owned, sheltered or trained for dog fighting; or
- Has been identified as a “potentially dangerous dog” by the local animal control board.
According to G.S. § 67-4.1, a dog is deemed “potentially dangerous” if it has already bitten someone, left the owner’s property and attacked or killed another animal, or acted aggressively (in a “threatening manner”) when it is near other people.
Scienter (One-Bite) Rule and Traditional Dog Owner Defenses
The common-law term that helps establish strict liability for dog owners for the injuries his or her animal causes, is the Latin term “scienter”: the owner must have prior knowledge that his or her dog is dangerous. Injured plaintiffs who bring dog bite claims or cases but cannot prove the “one bite (scienter) rule” must prove owner negligence in order to receive damages for their injuries.
Dog owners have a couple of defenses against bite claims, which include:
- Proving that the injured victim was trespassing or attempting to commit a crime on the owner’s property. Trespassers have virtually no injured victims’ rights.
- Proving that the victim/plaintiff “tormented, abused, or assaulted” the dog.
Reasons to Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer After a Serious Dog Bite
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4.7 million dog bites happen every year in the U.S., 800,000 victims seek medical attention – half of them children – and almost 400,000 need emergency medical treatment.
From the date the attack occurred, injured dog bite victims in North Carolina have a three-year statute of limitations to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner. G.S. § 1-52. But as mentioned above, your opponents are the dog owner and his or her insurance company – the ones who will pay the claim. And you can be certain they began investigating this matter almost immediately and will aggressively protect their interests of NOT paying you.
Thus, it’s most important to quickly retain a seasoned personal injury lawyer who understands dog bite attack investigations and can build a solid case to either convince the insurance company to settle fairly or convince a jury to award fair compensation. All personal injury consultations at Wilson, Reives & Silverman are offered free of charge. Contact us today so we can help you get the compensation you deserve for your dog bite case.