Randall & Stump, PLLC

Personal Injury True or False: "Every dog gets a free bite"?

In North Carolina personal injury cases, owners of domestic animals, including dogs, are held liable for any injury caused by the animal, only where the owner knew or should have known of the animal's aggressive nature. This is not a negligence rule, so no measure of care in the animal's keeping will excuse the owner.

However, if the dog is an inherently "dangerous bread" breed, such as a pit-bull, the owner is strictly liable for the harm, regardless if the owner knew or should have known if the animal was dangerous. Whether an animal is a dangerous breed is determined by the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control, because the dog has engaged in one or more of the behaviors listed below:

a.Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or

Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner's real property; or

Approached a person when not on the owner's property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack

The good news is, a dog owner in this situation does have options. The dog owner would need to attack the liability with appropriate defenses such as assumption of the risk, provocation, contributory negligence, and some courts apply pure comparative fault principles.

Assumption of the risk is an affirmative defense made by the owner when the victim fully understands a risk of harm to himself by the owner's dog in this case, and voluntarily chooses to enter or remain within the area of that risk. In that situation, the victim is not entitled to recover for his or her injuries.

Contributory negligence is also an affirmative defense, when the victim was injured in part due tohis or her own negligence (his or her negligence "contributed" to the accident). In this situation the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages> from another party who supposedly caused the accident based on the preponderance of evidence. North Carolina's approach on this defense is, if a person was found to be contributory negligent, they are barred from recovery, no matter how small or big a percentage they contributed to their injury.

Contributing Author: Aria Merle

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