The Fine Print – Legally Responsible for My Pet’s Behavior?

“Dear Attorney,

My husband and I usually keep our dog in our fenced yard. She is very sweet, but recently, with
all of the neighborhood kids going back to school, some of them have been walking by and trying to play with her through the fence. What is our liability if she were to accidentally hurt one of them?” – Paranoid Pooch Parent


Dear Paranoid Pooch Parent,

Back to school season can be thrilling for kids and parents alike, but it poses challenges for a pet owner.  The sights and sounds of school busses and children passing bay a fenced yard can be exciting for may pets.  Likewise, cute puppies or older dogs are tempting playmates for many children.  Even when no harm is meant to the pet or child, accidents can happen.

North Carolina is one of eighteen states that uses the “one-bite rule.” The one-bite rule basically means an owner of a dog that has not previously acted in a vicious or dangerous manner, and has not caused an injury, will not be liable for the first bite or injury caused by their dog.

However, there are a few important exceptions to this rule. A pet owner may still be responsible for injuries caused by their dog under North Carolina’s “strict liability” law. These laws often make it is easier for those injured to hold the owners liable because they do not have to prove that the owner was negligent. Dog owners in North Carolina may be held strictly liable for dog bite injuries if:

1) The dog was “running at large at night”— if the dog is over six months old, the owner must ensure that the dog is not permitted to run around during the nighttime without being accompanied by the owner or someone designated by the owner to watch over the dog;

2) The dog is known as a “dangerous dog”—this includes any dog that:

– without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury to a person;

– has previously been declared dangerous or potentially dangerous by local animal control; or

– has previously been involved in dog fighting or has been trained for dog fighting.

There are also certain circumstances in which a dog owner might not be held responsible for the injury caused by their pet.  An owner may not be held responsible if the injured person is found to have been taunting or harming the animal. Additionally, if the person was willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, the owner may not be held liable for the injuries caused from the bite.

The most important thing to consider is that all situations are different and there are many factors that go into determining an owner’s liability for their pet. Also, do not be afraid to take common sense steps like politely asking the neighborhood children to not pet your dog or speaking to your neighbors in advance. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and hopefully keep all parties happy and injury free.

S. Hunt Harris, Esq. practices civil litigation, business litigation, and addresses corporate law matters at Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law.  To schedule a consultation with him, please call (704) 841-0760. The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and S. Hunt Harris or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law.

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