In North Carolina, there are two ways that an owner may be liable for dog
bites. First, N.C.G.S § 67-4.1 provides for strict liability for
attacks by "dangerous dogs". Second, some common law or case
law has found that particular breeds of dog such as Rottweilers and Pit
Bulls may give rise to liability for negligence.
1. N.C.G.S § 67-4.1
(statutory strict liabilty for dogs that have bit someone or been aggressive
(1) "Dangerous dog" means
a. A dog that:
1. Without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person; or
2. Is determined by the person or Board designated by the county or municipal
authority responsible for animal control to be potentially dangerous because
the dog has engaged in one or more of the behaviors listed in subdivision
(2) of this subsection.
b. Any dog owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog
fighting, or any dog trained for dog fighting.
(2) "Potentially dangerous dog" means a dog that the person or
Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for
animal control determines to have:
a. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring
lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or
b. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on
the owner's real property; or
c. Approached a person when not on the owner's property in a vicious
or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.
(3) "Owner" means any person or legal entity that has a possessory
property right in a dog.
(4) "Owner's real property" means any real property owned
or leased by the owner of the dog, but does not include any public right-of-way
or a common area of a condominium, apartment complex, or townhouse development.
(5) "Severe injury" means any physical injury that results in
broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or
So, in a nutshell this statute creates the "One Bite Rule" that
you may have heard about. The One Bite Rule is an over-simplified explanation
oft he above. The purpose of this rule is that once there has been a prior
attack, the owner is now on notice that the dog can be dangerous. This
prior notice creates forseeability that this may happen again. The law
then puts this risk on the owners if they chose to keep the dogs. This
One Bite Rule is the law in around eighteen states.
2. Common Law Negligence-
A. Horses- I will not discuss horse liability here as it is more complicated
with specific statutes that will apply. However, horse liability did give
rise to the dangerous animal/breed rule which later created tort liability
for some dogs. In
Williams v. Tysinger, 328 N.C. 55, 399 S.E.2d 108 (1991), the Supreme Court discussed a mother's
claim to recover medical expenses after her minor child was kicked in
the head by a horse. The mother's negligence action against the owner
of the horse was identified as not the wrongful keeping of a vicious animal;
rather . . . the encouraging two young children to play with a horse after
being warned by the children's mother that they had no familiarity
with horses or any other large animals. The issue of the owner's negligence
therein was not dependent upon the owner's knowledge of any vicious
or dangerous propensities of the horse. Nonetheless, the Court held the
owner was chargeable on a claim of negligence with knowledge of the general
propensities of the horse, including "the fact that the horse might
kick without warning or might inadvertently step on a person."
Comment- So, the Williams case developed a "dangerous propensity"
rule whether or not the animal has attacked someone before.
B. Rottweiler dog bite cases (pit bull dog bites will apply as well)
1. Hill v. Williams, 144 NCApp 45 (2001) Although no case in this jurisdiction has invoked
the Williams rule where the domestic animal was a dog, we conclude that
application of the rule is appropriate on the facts herein. The negligence
of defendants as owners of Rowdy was not premised upon their knowledge
of the dog's vicious propensities; that claim was dismissed by the
trial court and plaintiffs have not cross-appealed. Rather, for purposes
of plaintiffs' negligence claim, defendants, "as owners of [Rowdy],
were 'chargeable with the knowledge of the general propensities,'"
id. at 60, 399 S.E.2d at 111 (quoting Griner, 43 N.C. App. 400, 407, 259
S.E.2d 383, 388), of the Rottweiler animal. Plaintiffs' expert Dr.
Wilson related that the Rottweiler breed was brought to the United States
in the mid-1980's for use as a guard dog or dog of personal protection.
He described the Rottweiler breed as very strong, aggressive and temperamental,
suspicious of strangers, protective of its space, and unpredictable. Dr.
Wilson further testified that he took great care while examining mature
Rottweiler dogs in his practice because they were believed to be dogs
that might bite.
Comment- so the Hill case took the dangerous propensity rule laid out in
Williams and applied this rule to dogs.
Harris v. Barefoot, 206 N.C. App. 308, 311 (N.C. Ct. App. 2010) Plaintiff argues that defendant
Barefoot knew or should have known that his dog could have posed a danger
to others because Rottweilers are aggressive and dangerous by nature,
and that defendant Barefoot's treatment of the dog -- keeping the
dog tethered in his yard most of the time -- not only shows that he knew
the dog could be violent, but also contributed to the dog's vicious
nature. The facts, however, do not support any of these contentions. While
our courts have found that Rottweilers are aggressive by nature and that
it might be negligent not to keep them restrained, plaintiff has not presented
any evidence showing that Riley was indeed a Rottweiler. Plaintiff consistently
refers to the dog as a "ninety-pound Rottweiler," but failed
to forecast any evidence as to the dog's actual weight or breed. Defendant
Barefoot stated that the dog weighed forty-five pounds and was a mixed
breed dog, including some Rottweiler ancestry. Even taking the evidence
in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as we must, we find no basis
to infer the breed of the dog as a Rottweiler. As such, plaintiff's
argument related to the dog's breed must fail.
Harris case was the second case to allude to the dangerous propensity rule, but
since the plaintiff did not provide any supportive testimony their argument
was insufficient. So, to pursue one of these cases on a dangerous breed
theory you will need an expert. The owners will strongly argue that their
pit bull has never attacked anyone. However, that is often the case. I
have seen terrible cases, severe mauling of children and deaths from such
family dogs with no history of violence. Some dogs were bred in the past
to be aggressive, and it is in their genes to be so.
C. Cats bites!? (Lol, no.)
Thomas v. Weddle, 167 N.C. App. 283, 287 (N.C. Ct. App. 2004) However, with regards to
injuries inflicted by normally gentle or tame domestic animals, the law
is clear that "the test for liability is whether the owner knew or
should have known from the animal's past conduct, including acts evidencing
a vicious propensity . . . 'that [the animal] is likely, if not restrained,
to do an act from which a reasonable person, in the position of the owner,
could foresee that an injury to the person or property of another would
be likely to result.'" Slade v. Stadler, 150 N.C. App. 677, 678,
564 S.E.2d 298, 299 (2002) (quoting Hunnicutt v. Lundberg, 94 N.C. App.
210, 211, 379 S.E.2d 710, 711-12 (1989)), aff'd, 356 N.C. 659, 576
S.E.2d 328 (2003).
In the instant case, plaintiffs allege injuries caused by a domestic cat,
a species traditionally considered to be generally harmless. "The
domestic cat is by nature ordinarily harmless and docile." Goodwin
v. E. B. Nelson Grocery Co., 239 Mass. 232, 235, 132 N.E. 51, 53 (1921).
Further, plaintiffs presented no evidence that this particular cat was
of a species or breed known to be dangerous.
Summary- If you have an average dog like Labs, then the One Bite Rule will apply.
This means that the owner will only have liability if that Lab had attacked
someone before or the other acts listed above. However, if you have a
Dangerous Breed like Rottweilers and pit bulls then you may be liable
for any attack. While the designation of "Dangerous Breed" is
very contentious you should read these
articles on dog bites. As you can see, almost all studies have shown that pit bulls make up
the majority of severe injury and death cases. Also, around half of the
people killed by dogs are under the age of eight. In the US, people are
entitled to own these dogs. However, the public does not have to bear
the risk for this choice. The owners do. With more than four million dog
bites in the US every year, it is important to hold owners responsible
for their choices. While it does look "cool" to walk a large
pit bull on a chain leash, the rest of us shouldn't have to pay for