Read here about animal law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Learn on what to do when you suffer an injury from a dog bite. Learn how to protect your rights.
We discuss North Carolina case law and statutes dealing with dog bites in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Animal Attack Accidents
At common law, the owner or keeper of a domestic animal is generally not liable for injuries inflicted by the animal unless the injuries were the result of a vicious propensity of which the owner had notice or knowledge.
The common law imposed liability for foreseeable harm only after proof that:
- the particular animal possessed a dangerous propensity that caused the plaintiff's injury, and
- that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the propensity (also referred to as "scienter.")
In North Carolina the owner of a domestic animal is chargeable with knowledge of the general propensities of certain animals and he must exercise due care to prevent injury from reasonably anticipated conduct.
In Williams v. Tysinger, defendant gave repeated assurances to plaintiff that his horse was safe to play with. In addition, plaintiffs warned defendant that their kids had never been around horses. Nonetheless defendant encouraged the two children to go play with the horse while unsupervised, which resulted in the horse kicking the children and causing them bodily injuries.
The court concluded that the the question of defendants' negligence did not depend upon defendants' knowledge of the horse's vicious or dangerous propensities, but rather the issue is with defendants encouraging of 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.
Defendants as owners of the horse were chargeable with knowledge of the general propensities of the horse. This knowledge of the general propensities of the horse would include the fact that the horse might kick without warning or might inadvertently step on a person.
Knowledge (or scienter) can be established in the following ways:
- by offering proof of the animal's actual prior attacks or other injurious behavior that permits a reasonable inference to be drawn that the animal is likely to engage in the behavior again;
- by showing actual or constructive knowledge of a propensity or tendency of the animal to act in a certain way under certain circumstances, although no actual attack or injury ever occurred. Scienter will be found when the owner or keeper has seen or heard enough to convince a person of ordinary prudence or, at least, to raise a reasonable inference of the animal's inclination to commit the class of injury charged against it.
- by the use of circumstantial evidence. Evidence of the following is usually admissible to permit the jury to draw an inference of dangerous propensities of the animal and/or the owner's or keeper's knowledge of them:
- Animal's species or breed;
- Its size;
- Its reputation in the neighborhood;
- Its training;
- Owner's purpose for keeping the animal, for example, as a watchdog;
- Length of time the animal was kept;
- Care exercised in its custody, such as chaining or confining it to an enclosed area;
- Owner or keeper's warnings to others, whether written or oral;
- Other unambiguous behavior of the defendant with regard to the animal, such as always using a harness or bridle when grooming a horse.
If scienter can be shown, a defendant is obligated to assume the responsibility to protect those persons whom the defendant should reasonably expect to be within the foreseeable ambit of danger. The defendant may discharge this responsibility by adequately restraining or confining the animal, by giving a warning, by providing competent supervision of the activity in which the animal participates, or by observing whatever conduct is proper under the circumstances.
A plaintiff injured by a domestic animal may base an action on ordinary negligence principles. In North Carolina, knowledge by the owner of the vicious propensities of his horse is not always essential to a recovery in an action for injuries alleged to have been caused by the owner's negligence.
North Carolina legislature has enacted a statue that addresses dog bite injuries. Article 1A of Chapter 67 defines the "dangerous dog" and sets strict liability as against the dog owner for injuries cause by such "dangerous dog."
Specifically, "dangerous dog" is defined as a dog that :
- Without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person; or
- 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 following behaviors:
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.
The statute further defines the term "severe injury" as:
"any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization."
Most importantly, in North Carolina, the owner of a dangerous dog is strictly liable in civil damages for any injuries or property damage the dog inflicts upon a person, his property, or another animal.
In addition, the owner of such a dangerous dog that attacks a person and causes physical injuries requiring medical treatment in excess of one hundred dollars ($100.00) is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Let's define "strict liability":
Strict liability is a concept of tort law which basically means that liability will be imposed on the responsible party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent). In other words, you only need to prove that the tort (or injury) occurred and that the defendant was responsible. Most often, the law imputes strict liability to situations it considers to be inherently dangerous. The purpose behind is to discourage reckless behavior and needless loss by forcing potential defendants to take every possible precaution. It also has the effect of simplifying and thereby expediting court decisions in these cases.
Note, that in order to recover under the statute, the injured party could not have provoked the dangerous dog's attack.
Also, for obvious reasons, the injured person could not have trespassed upon the dog owner's property.
The owner (or joint owners) of an animal will ordinarily be liable for an injury caused by the animal when the liability imposed is absolute, but, when the basis of the action is scienter or negligence, and there is no showing of the owner's scienter or breach of duty, either actual or imputed, the owner may avoid joint liability with one who is actively responsible for the injury, such as a keeper or harborer.
Of course, respondeat superior or agency principles may operate to impose liability vicariously.
The owner of an animal is one who has legal title to the animal.
Alternatively, ownership may be inferred from conduct that gives evidence of ownership, such as possession and usage over a period of time without contrary evidence indicating other ownership. When a person who is not, in fact, the owner acts or makes representations that imply ownership, like offering an invitation to see "his" animal and suggesting that the plaintiff feed it, while assuring the plaintiff that the animal will not bite, apparent ownership may support joint liability with the real owner for any injury incurred.
Keeper, Harborer, Possessor
Joint and several liabilities may be imposed on the keepers, harborers, or possessors of the animal under the same circumstances as if they were owners.
Although these terms differ in literal meaning, the cases often do not distinguish amongst them and tend to use them interchangeably. Notwithstanding the classification of the defendant, liability is usually premised on a substantial degree of control, management, or care of the animal by the defendant and implies an "exercise of a substantial number of the incidents of ownership by one who, though not the owner, assumes to act in his stead."
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County Leash Laws
The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have strict leash laws that apply to all animals, except cats (see the nuisance animal section for laws pertaining to cats here).
Animals must be on a leash, contained within a fence or an operable and marked invisible fence. The invisible fence company should give owners a sign to place at the mailbox to indicate that there is an invisible fence present.
An animal may be loose in its own yard if there is an adult (18 years or older) immediately next to the animal and the animal responds to direct verbal commands of the person.
ALL dog owners that take their dogs for walks in their neighborhoods and/or in public parks (not designated as a dog park) are required to keep their dogs on leash and under physical restraint at ALL TIMES. Please note that having the leash in your possession and not attached to the dog is not considered having the dog on a leash and you will still be subject to a fine.
All regulations aim to protect the health and safety of our citizens. Please be a responsible pet owner and abide by the law. Violations will be investigated and stiff fines may be applied. Fines range from a $50.00 citation for the first violation and up to a $500.00 citation and permanent seizure of the animal for a fifth violation.
To report an animal at large, please call 311. Please note that it could take up to 4 hours for an officer to respond. Any information about where the owner lives would help greatly.
Owners that have not been in violation before, or dogs that are not visibly seen loose by an AC&C Officer will receive a warning citation before violation citations will be written.
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Index of Relevant Terms:
- Absolute Divorce
- Contributory Negligence
- Imputed Negligence
- Defenses to a Negligence Lawsuit
- Driving and Texting in North Carolina
- Emotional Distress
- Punitive Damages
- Res Ipsa Loquitur
- Short Sale
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Truck Accidents
- Wrongful Death
- Wrongful Discharge from Employment