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North Carolina Dog Bite Laws

While often called man's best friend, the sad truth is that dogs sometimes revert to their wolf-like nature and attack people. More than 4.5 million people suffer some dog bite attack injury in the U.S. every year. Few things are more terrifying to experience than a dog attack. Equally as difficult is dealing with a dog bite attack by your beloved family pet. In the aftermath of a dog bite injury, questions about what happens next and who is liable will be your main focus.

Every state has different statutes, so it's important to understand every aspect of North Carolina's dog bite laws. In this article, you'll learn who is responsible in dog bite cases, the laws you'll encounter, what to do if you're a dog bite victim, and more. Read on to become well-versed about the dog bite laws in the Tarheel State.

North Carolina Dog Laws Overview

While most dogs are family pets, North Carolina recognizes that every canine can potentially threaten public health by exhibiting aggressive behavior. While there isn't a statewide leash law, and dogs have more freedom to be at large than in other states, North Carolina has statutes against dogs running free at night and females being loose while in heat.

Cities and municipalities can add their own restrictions as well. For example, dogs in Charlotte not contained on their owner's property must always be on a leash — unless in a designated area such as a fenced-in dog run. Raleigh has an ordinance forbidding dog tethering for more than three hours daily.

Dog owners who fail to contain a dog they know is dangerous can face criminal charges if the dog escapes or harms someone. A still-at-large dog that kills humans, domestic animals, or sheep can be killed by anyone without penalty.

After a Dog Bite Attack: Who Is Responsible?

If you're a dog bite victim or have suffered any sort of injury from a dog attack, the most important thing is to seek medical attention as soon as possible. After attending to your injuries, file a dog bite report with local authorities. This will alert animal control and others to the threat of an aggressive dog and lay the groundwork for any legal steps you take in the future.

North Carolina is a strict liability state, which means that under most circumstances, the dog's owner is liable for any injuries or damage caused by the dog. You don't have to prove that the owner was negligent as long as their dog caused a severe injury. The dog owner's insurance company often covers the victim's medical expenses. You can check your homeowner's insurance policy to ensure coverage.

Since North Carolina also follows the pure contributory negligence doctrine, things can get a little complicated. If the victim is at fault, they aren't eligible for damages. If your dog caused a dog bite injury, you may have a solid defense if the victim was:

Again, if the victim is even 1% responsible for contributing to the events that caused the injury, they can't collect anything from the dog's owner.

These statutes can sometimes be confusing. If you're unsure of your situation, contact a dog bite attorney for legal advice.

North Carolina Dog Classifications

Animal control officers can designate classifications for dogs with incidents, whether appointed by the county or a municipality. Keeping a dog with one of these classifications increases the responsibility of the dog's owner and exposes them to criminal charges.

Potentially Dangerous Dogs

The less serious of the two classifications, a dog can get declared potentially dangerous for any of the following transgressions:

  • Inflicted a bite on someone, resulting in disfiguring lacerations or broken bones or needing hospitalization or cosmetic surgery

  • Inflicted severe injury upon or killed a domestic animal when off of the owner's real property

  • Approached someone when off of the owner's property in a terrorizing or vicious way in a seeming attitude of attack

The law considers any injury suffered when fleeing from or fighting with an attacking dog a dog attack injury. The dog's owner has the right to appeal the designation.

Dangerous Dogs

The dangerous dog classification is very serious and reserved for dogs who have committed heinous attacks. Examples of behavior that will earn a dog this classification include:

  • Killing or inflicting severe injury on a person without provocation

  • Having engaged in one or more of the transgressions listed under the "potentially dangerous dog" classification

  • Having trained for dog fighting

North Carolina considers a severe injury as any physical injury resulting in broken bones, disfiguring lacerations, or requiring cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.

North Carolina Dog Laws at a Glance

When you're attacked or otherwise injured by someone's pet, you don't have time to wade through dense legal texts. You want to know how to handle the situation, whether notifying authorities or filing a personal injury claim. Below is a plain-language summary of the laws we've touched on above.

Statutes North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 67, Section 67-4.4

Civil liability for dog bites Owners are strictly liable for bites and other injuries caused by their dog if:

  • The dog is dangerous as defined by state law and

  • The dog injured another party or destroyed their personal property

Criminal provisions for dangerous dogs It's illegal for an owner to:

  • Leave a dangerous dog unattended on the owner's real property unless the dog is in a securely locked and enclosed indoor pen or in a different type of structure intended to restrain the dog

  • Allow a dangerous dog to go past the owner's real property unless the dog wears a muzzle or leash or is otherwise securely restrained

A violation of these laws is a Class 3 misdemeanor (up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine).

Exceptions to liability for dog bites An owner's liability for dog bites doesn't apply to:

  • A dog used by a law enforcement officer to carry out their official duties

  • A dog used in a lawful hunt

  • A dog where a domestic animal got injured while the dog was working as a hunting, predator control, or herding dog on its owner's property, and the injury was to a type of domestic animal to the work of the dog

  • A dog where the person injured was, at the time of the injury, committing a willful trespass or other tort, was tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, or was attempting to commit or committing a crime

Time limit for filing claim: Three years (North Carolina Civil Statute of Limitations)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation and rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Other Questions About North Carolina Dog Bite Laws

The details surrounding your particular dog bite case will differ from others, but common ground exists. Below are some frequently asked questions about dog bite injuries in North Carolina.

Does the state know about every dog bite?

North Carolina knows of every dog bite injury treated by a medical professional. North Carolina statute 130A-196 states that doctors are legally required to file a report to either Animal Services or the local animal control officer for any dog bite injuries, no matter how minor.

If the dog that caused the bite doesn't have a rabies vaccination, it goes into quarantine for 10 days. For public safety, you should report any dog bite you suffer — even from your dog.

Is there a one-bite rule in North Carolina?

The one-bite rule states that a dog's owner can have limited or no liability for a dog's first bite if the dog hadn't shown aggression before the incident. While it technically exists in North Carolina, the strict liability statute often overrules it.

It was also dismissed in Griner v. Smith (1979), where despite the dog not having shown any aggression before, the owners of a Rottweiler were liable for damages because the court ruled that they should have been aware of the breed's "general propensities." This type of breed-specific bias has a fair share of criticism.

Does North Carolina have a cap on damages?

While there is a cap for punitive damages in North Carolina, the state doesn't set limits for recovery in a personal injury case. If you plan to file for damages from your dog bite injury, ensure you do so within the three-year statute of limitations.

Research the Law

  • North Carolina Code — FindLaw's hosted version of North Carolina's general statutes and constitution.

  • North Carolina Laws — FindLaw's summaries of select North Carolina laws, including criminal, injury, employment, family, and small business laws.

Related Resources

Get Legal Help With Your Questions About North Carolina Dog Laws

We don't expect dogs and other domestic animals to be vicious, but sometimes, they lash out and bite people, including loved ones. Regardless of whether the dog's owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous, they're strictly liable for injuries. A North Carolina dog bite attorney can give you legal advice, answer your questions, and navigate you through tricky legal waters.

If you're the owner of a dangerous dog or if your family pet had a bad moment, it's a good idea to get a personal injury lawyer experienced in defending dog bite cases on your side. Someone who knows the local ordinances and can fight for your furry friend might make all the difference.

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