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Dog Bite Liability

Dog Bites and Dog Attacks

According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States every year, and 900,000 of those bites end up becoming infected which leads to additional medical care and expense.  Approximately 325.8 million people lived in the United States as of 2017, which means a dog bit 1 out of every 72 people last year.

According to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the United States, dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost nearly $700 million and accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollar payouts for 2017.

According to a State Farm Insurance report, in 2017, State Farm paid $132 million in 3,600 dog-related injury claims nationwide.  Of those, North Carolina accounted for 85 claims, which resulted in $1.8 million in payments, approximately 2.4 percent of all dog-bite injuries in the country that year. North Carolina came in at No. 14 in the country for dog-related injuries addressed by State Farm.  South Carolina wasn’t far behind, ranking in at No. 21, with 62 claims and $1.7 million in payments.  Keep in mind that these numbers only account for State Farm dog bite liability claims.

While most people associate dog bites and attacks with Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, dog bites and dog attacks can come about from all breeds and sizes of dogs. It is always a good idea to be cautious, especially when you or your children are around new or unfamiliar dogs.

How long do I have to make a claim for a dog bite or dog attack?

If you are attacked and bitten or injured by a dog bite in North Carolina or South Carolina, you have (3) three years to file a lawsuit in court or your claim will be barred. The three-year deadline typically starts to run on the date the attack occurred.  This is the same statute of limitation for most other forms of personal injury in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

In order to pursue a claim for a dog bite, it is important to know the name and address of the owner of the dog and to properly identify and preserve witness information and statements, animal control reports, and medical documents.

In many instances, liability for the dog bite will likely fall under the dog owner’s homeowner’s liability insurance policy.   These insurance policies can be issued in a number of different amounts, but typically range from $100,000 up to $1,000,000.

Is there strict liability for dog bites?  What does that mean?

Dog bite laws are covered by state statutes in both North Carolina and South Carolina.  Both North Carolina and South Carolina dog bite laws provide for “strict liability,” which means that, in most instances, the owner cannot escape liability just because he used reasonable care to restrain the dog or to try and prevent an attack or bite.  In addition to strict liability theories of liability, a claim may also be available under a general negligence theory.

What is the law in North Carolina on dog bites and attacks?

In North Carolina, there are several statutes which relate to dog bites and they are dispersed throughout Section 67 of the North Carolina General Statutes. In general, the laws provide that the owner of a dog can be liable for an injury caused by a dog if it can be shown that the dog was a “dangerous dog” under North Carolina law and that the dog caused injury to a person or his property. 

An important point to note in the law is that the dog does not have to actually bite you in order for the owner to be held liable for the injury. Rather, the dog just needs to be deemed a “dangerous dog” under the law, which means that it has previously injured or killed a person without provocation, is owned or trained for dog fighting, or has been concluded to be a “potentially dangerous dog” by the animal control board. The animal control board will typically deem a dog as “potentially dangerous” if it has bitten someone before, killed another animal, or if it acts aggressively when approached by people.

What is the law in South Carolina for dog bites and attacks?

In South Carolina, dog bites and attacks are covered under Section 47-3-110 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, which provides that a dog owner may be held liable for injuries caused by his dog if, without provocation, the dog bites or attacks a person thereby causing injury to the person while the person is in a public place or while the person is lawfully in a private place. 

As in North Carolina, South Carolina also covers not only situations in which there is an actual dog bite, but also to incidents where a person is “attacked” by a dog, knocked down, or otherwise injured by a dog.

What are the defenses to dog bites and dog attack claims?

Although North Carolina and South Carolina are “strict liability” states when it comes to dog bite laws, there are defenses which can and are often raised to deny or dispute liability in dog bite claim.  The two primary defenses are provocation and trespass.  Specifically, if the injured person provoked the dog by tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog, or if the injured person was bitten or attacked while willfully trespassing or attempting to commit a crime or other wrong, then the owner may not be found liable for the injury.  In addition, North Carolina specifically recognizes a defense if the dog was a law enforcement dog, hunting dog, or herding dog that was carrying out its duties at the time of the bite or attack.

What damages can I recover for a dog bite or dog attack?

Recoverable damages for a dog bite or dog attack are the same as with any personal injury claim.  These are commonly referred to as compensatory damages, which are divided into two categories: special damages, or damages that compensate for monetary losses, and general damages, or damages that compensate for non-monetary losses.

Compensatory damages for monetary losses include medical expenses and lost wages.  Medical expenses include the costs of past and future medical care. Future medical expenses are often estimated based upon physician opinions as to the reasonable related medical needs that the injured will have for his or her life expectancy as a result of the injury. Typical medical issues that can arise from a dog bite or dog attack include bite wounds and scratches, scarring and disfigurement, nerve damage, infection, psychological trauma, and even fractures from a resultant fall.  Depending on the type and extent of injuries, medical expenses can range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars if reconstructive surgery is required.

Lost wages include the lost earnings while recovering from an injury, in addition to any lost earning capacity suffered as a result of an injury that will carry into the future.  Loss of future earning capacity will often require expert opinions from the treating physicians as well as an economist.

If the attack involved damage to property, then the damages to repair or replace the damaged property may be recovered.  For valuation, a property is typically valued at its fair market value at the time of the damage.

Non-monetary damages are often referred to as the soft, or gray area of damages, meaning there is no specific formula or equation to calculate these damages.  These non-monetary damages are difficult to calculate and can vary significantly from one injured to the next. These damages include “pain and suffering” and “loss of consortium.”

Pain and suffering damages are meant to account for the actual physical pain resulting from an injury, in addition to compensation for the accompanying emotional distress. Emotional distress is the frustration, loss of enjoyment of life, and general anger associated with suffering from, and dealing with, the injury, including a new fear of dogs, as is commonly the case in children, who may have nightmares after a dog attack.

Loss of consortium damages accounts for the spouses of the injured.  They may receive damages for the loss of the emotional and intangible elements of marriage, including loss of affection, companionship, assistance, and sexual relations that result from the injury.

Contact our personal injury attorneys today to learn more about how we can assist you with your dog bite claim or dog attack claim.