Personal Injury Lawyer Wins Damages after Dog Bite Attacks

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[1] is governed by Chapter 67 of the N.C. General Statutes[2].  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[3] 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[4]
  • 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[5].  So if the victim suffers injuries from the bite of a “dangerous dog” (G.S. § 67-4.1[6]), 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[7] in order to receive damages for their injuries.

Dog owners have a couple of defenses against bite claims, which include:

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